Are handheld self-scanners the wrong technology?

Articles
July 22, 2009

Are handheld self-scanners the wrong technology?

Cellular phones have gained ubiquity through easy portability, new features and dependability. Newer models like iPhone (see Apple’s blowout quarter) are hot sellers because they pack so much usefulness and style into a pocket-sized device. Meanwhile, retail couponers have been busy with brand marketers and third-party technology firms (Kroger/Cellfire and ShopRite/Samplesaint) optimizing ways to reach shoppers directly via their cells, in order to grow store traffic, basket size and coupon redemption rates. Their goal is to maximize impact by reaching shoppers while they’re planning where they’ll shop and what they’ll buy. So we ask, are retailers like Stop & Shop and Giant Food wearing blinders? Are they too concerned with shaping the shopping trip once people are in their stores, and too little concerned with influencing their thinking before the trip? True, the Modiv Media and Motorola Scan It! hand-held devices at these chains have value: shoppers can keep their running tab, be alerted to manufacturer discounts on certain items based on their purchase patterns, and check out more speedily. The stores can benefit too from baskets that are 10% larger and 10% more frequent, Paul Schaut, chairman and chief executive officer of Modiv Media told the Hartford Courant this spring. Bob Bennett, director of front-end operations and customer service for Giant Food, estimated for the Washington Post that the devices are being used on about 1 million shopping trips each month at Giant and Stop & Shop combined. The 60 Giant stores equipped with them—about one-third of the chain—carry 48 units on average. About 190 Stop & Shops also carry them.

Cellular phones have gained ubiquity through easy portability, new features and dependability. Newer models like iPhone (see Apple’s blowout quarter) are hot sellers because they pack so much usefulness and style into a pocket-sized device.

Meanwhile, retail couponers have been busy with brand marketers and third-party technology firms (Kroger/Cellfire and ShopRite/Samplesaint) optimizing ways to reach shoppers directly via their cells, in order to grow store traffic, basket size and coupon redemption rates. Their goal is to maximize impact by reaching shoppers while they’re planning where they’ll shop and what they’ll buy.

So we ask, are retailers like Stop & Shop and Giant Food wearing blinders?  Are they too concerned with shaping the shopping trip once people are in their stores, and too little concerned with influencing their thinking before the trip? True, the Modiv Media and Motorola Scan It! hand-held devices at these chains have value: shoppers can keep their running tab, be alerted to manufacturer discounts on certain items based on their purchase patterns, and check out more speedily. The stores can benefit too from baskets that are 10% larger and 10% more frequent, Paul Schaut, chairman and chief executive officer of Modiv Media told the Hartford Courant this spring.

Bob Bennett, director of front-end operations and customer service for Giant Food, estimated for the Washington Post that the devices are being used on about 1 million shopping trips each month at Giant and Stop & Shop combined. The 60 Giant stores equipped with them—about one-third of the chain—carry 48 units on average. About 190 Stop & Shops also carry them.

Naturally, SupermarketGuru.com had many questions, which Stop & Shop corporate had several opportunities to answer, and went silent on us. So we are left to share with readers some of the questions we think chains should ask before investing in a technology that (a) some customers consider to be a distraction, and (b) could soon become an afterthought if cell phones are targeted instead to improve the shopping experience. When was the last time you shopped and didn’t see people speaking on their cells with family members about possible purchases?

The questions:  What are the usage rates of these devices, and how are they trending? How do they affect basket size and composition, time in the aisles, purchase selections as the running total mounts, trip frequency? Are shoppers sophisticated in their use, mining their potential to make trips more productive, or do they use these devices primarily as calculators? Why invest in these devices rather than target individualized coupons to shoppers’ cell phones, which they are already accustomed to using?  What role do these devices play in winning over shoppers? Which kinds of shoppers do they attract?

Have fun adding to this list and setting your smartest technology priorities.