New Computers Make Grocery Carts Smarter

Big Brother is coming to a shopping cart near you.

New Computers Make Grocery Carts Smarter (AP)

New supermarket carts equipped with touch screens will guide you to the tomatoes or toothpicks, let you order deli meat without standing in line and keep a running tally of your purchases. What they won’t do is tell you how many fat grams or calories are in your cart. The idea is to make it easier for consumers to buy, not induce second thoughts that maybe you should put something back on the shelf. The touch-screen devices are on display at the supermarket industry’s annual convention, being held this week in Chicago by the Food Marketing Institute. “It helps save you time, and it helps save you money. It’s all about making it easy for you,” IBM Corp. executive Ken Lawler said in an interview.

IBM’s “shopping buddy” has been test-marketed at Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts and is being rolled out this summer. A competing device called Concierge, made by Springboard Retail Networks Inc., is being tested by Canadian stores in June and July. “The whole model is driven by advertisers’ need to get in front of consumers,” said Springboard spokesman Michael Alexandor. “They’re not watching 30-second TV ads anymore.”

People can use a home computer to make their shopping list. Once at the store, they can use their preferred customer card, or a key that fits on a keychain, to log into a system that will organize their trip through the aisles. If you’re looking for toothpicks, you type in the word or pick it from a list, and the screen will display a map showing where you are and where you can find them. The Concierge and IBM’s cart are equipped with the miniature equivalent of GPS, the global positioning satellite system. Sensors can track the devices to see right where your cart is, so that as you turn into an aisle, the screen can show what’s there on your list and which items are on sale.

Sure, that’s how it starts. But pretty soon, the cart will start talking back.

“I’m sorry James, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Just what do you think you’re doing, James?”

“Are you sure you are making the right decision?”

Update (5-3 1410): Terry Oglesby adds, “I’d be satisfied to find one with four operable wheels.” Well, there is that, isn’t there?

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “Didn’t you buy 4 Haagen Dasz pints last week?”

  2. McGehee says:

    “James, please don’t put your soft drink cup on my — AAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!!”

  3. Anderson says:

    “I’m sorry, Dave, but I can’t let you buy that ice cream.”