I can imagine two possible consumer reactions to MediaCart, a smart shopping cart that offers video displays, personalized services, and targeted advertising to shoppers in retail stores: amazement or horror. Microsoft has teamed up with MediaCart to offer in-store ad targeting that is both behavioral and takes the concept of “location-based services” to the store aisles using RFID tags. Here’s the press release. The first rollout will be in selected ShopRite grocery stores, which are concentrated on the US East Coast.
According to the release:
By using Microsoft technologies, the MediaCart solution will enable anonymous ad targeting through data obtained through ShopRite’s customer loyalty card program. A shopper would scan his or her card at the MediaCart, and receive ads and promotional offers based on past purchases and/or saved shopping lists that could be uploaded from a home PC. No personally identifiable information will be shared with Microsoft, MediaCart, or any advertiser as part of the ad serving process. The technology will also provide advertisers with reporting and analytics capabilities to assess performance of the ads in the stores.
In addition to the advertising shoppers will receive, they will also be able to save time and money with MediaCart-equipped shopping carts by obtaining electronic coupons, locating products in the store, performing comparative price checks, viewing store specials in aisles as they shop, viewing recipes and nutritional information, shopping using an electronic shopping list that is presented in aisle order, totaling the cost of the items in their baskets before checkout, and expediting the checkout using the cart-level checkout feature. This enhanced shopping experience helps differentiate ShopRite in the marketplace and drives brand and customer loyalty.
Here are some screens from a promotional video on the MediaCart site:
What these screens show is a range of services and promotions, some of which are accessed with the swipe of a loyalty card and are tied to home PCs. For example, shoppers can retrieve shopping lists that have been compiled at home on retailer/grocery store websites. They can also get nutritional information, product prices, and recipes. In addition, consumers can locate or search for products with in-store maps and check out (if supported by the store) using a scanner on the cart. (Goodbye grocery store clerks.)
The carts also support voice recognition to search for products in the store (e.g., “Where’s the laundry detergent?”).
Shoppers are presented with brand messages and promotions potentially tied to where they are in the store. RFID tags can be read/received by the cart and allow promotions as consumers are passing or near the products themselves. Marketers have historically envisioned mobile, “location-based services” scenarios where promotions are “beamed” to a user’s phone as they pass a business or specific location out in the world. While that day will likely never come as envisioned, MediaCart is the realization of that marketing fantasy today. Coupons, product messages, and other promotions can be “narrowcast” to individual shopping carts at precise times and locations within the store: here comes the chicken recipe as you’re passing the meat counter, and so on.
There’s also a potentially heavy dose of targeting here based on personal shopping lists and historical purchase behavior. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a valuable upgrade to the current in-store experience or its opposite. My sense is that it’s a mix of both. Some of the services such as shopping lists, price checks, and product-location finding are all valuable. The barrage of brand advertising would not be welcome in my opinion. But that already exists at many checkout video screens in US supermarket chains.
What Microsoft gets to pitch to its brand advertisers through this program is distribution to the shopping cart and very highly qualified buyers near the point of purchase. And if consumers and retailers accept this technology (assume yes), we’ll see it in more than just grocery stores in the not-too-distant future.
Hat tip to Search Engine Journal.