A number of outlets are now reporting that IBM, in a partnership with Cuesol will be rolling out (no pun intended) smart shopping carts to about 25 Stop & Shop supermarkets in the first quarter of 2005. The carts feature all of the things that you would expect to see (wayfinding, product location, coupon and discount notification, etc.) as well as some new features like emailing your shopping list to the store ahead of time and self-checkout without waiting in line. It's the latter feature that makes me thing that this experiment might pan out more than some otherwise very similar ones in the late 90's and early '00s. (I tried to find some links to some of the more spectacular failures, but it looks like all of those companies have gone under).
I'm still skeptical about this sort
of application. For one, I still see people regularly dragging
their shopping carts out of the supermarket parking lot and into the
adjacent apartment community. While I'm sure that they usually
make it back into the parking lot eventually, I wonder what would
happen if there was a cool-looking touchscreen computer attached to
it. Also, despite claims by IBM and Cuesol that everybody from
the very young to the very old can use these systems, I also have my
doubts about this product being usable only by computer savvy
individuals. And finally, there are a host of logistics concerns
like maintaining product placement databases, making sure that the
kiosk's batteries stay charged, and so on, although those are the sorts
of issues that IBM is traditionally pretty good about dealing with.
I haven't seen any good pictures of the complete shopping cart yet, but there is a nice rendering of Cuesol's "Cart Companion" here.