business news in context, analysis with attitude

Not by Kevin Coupe

Got an email yesterday from MNB user Larry Monahan, who noted that his daughter recently wrote her college application essay on the subject of innovation, and used the supermarket shopping experience as the canvas on which to sketch her thoughts. Monahan was proud of his daughter’s efforts and wanted to share them with me...and I, in turn, want to share them with you. See what you think...

It all starts with a list. Each week you keep track of what you will need next time at the grocery store. Inventorying your shopping list is time consuming, and there are always items you happen to forget. Furthermore, clipping coupons is a hassle along with looking through weekly ads for the best deal. Existing technology such as bar code scanners, smart phones, and voice recognition can be combined to generate an efficient weekly shopping list.

Here’s how it would work: multiple bar code scanners would be strategically placed in the consumer’s kitchen, especially near refrigerators, pantries, trash cans, and recycling bins. Ideally, it would match the architecture of the house on a wireless network. When a product is getting low or empty, the consumer would simply scan the UPC on the scanner to add that item to the list. Voice recognition could be another way to make a list for items lacking a UPC including fresh fruit and vegetables. Finally, a consumer could physically type in the items needed on an application for a smartphone. The ongoing shopping list could be accessed from any computer or television with internet access. Every member of the family would also have the opportunity to add items to the shopping list. This would eliminate the primary shopper from canvasing everyone for their individual needs for the week. Placing the virtual shopping list on a wired or wireless network provides around the clock availability to the consumer for spontaneous product needs.

Once the weekly list is complete, the consumer wants to find the best deals. This can be achieved by linking the lists to grocery store ads found on websites. Also, by linking the lists to individual manufactures, the consumer can take advantage of online coupons. With the consumers preselected store list, the program will review the best pricing and provide a shopping recommendation for the consumer. The list may be divided up based on preference for shopping through best pricing and quality. It also recognizes some shoppers are more inclined to shop at multiple stores or enjoy the convenience of just one store. Now the consumer has a couple of options. The first is the choice to go on the traditional shopping trip with pre-printed coupons. The second option is electronically sending the list directly to the store for either pick-up or delivery, based on the schedule preference of the consumer. The store employees would shop for the consumers order. Once completed the consumer would be notified for the delivery options or establish a weekly delivery time.

Through this process invention, the consumer’s purchase history and product preferences would be data based. This information could be used to alert the shopper of special deals and recommend orders similar to Genius on Apple products. Customized support coordinated based on consumers’ needs and willingness to pay would assist one in choosing exact locations for bar code scanners, preference for stores, and pick-up or delivery scheduling.

At the store level, the ability to anticipate planned purchases prepares their own ordering and inventory. Not only can this technology be available to consumers to alleviate inefficiency, but the grocery store might want to invest to build loyalty with their customers. Food manufacturers also might want to increase their supply with the new technology, as they would benefit from having a new way to reach their consumers. As every transaction is done electronically, it would eliminate the need for paper lists, store advertisements, and hard-copy coupons. This invention would save gas for those shoppers that routinely forget items and have to make multiple trips to the store. The application of this invention is not only convenient for grocery shopping lists, but also food pantries, and businesses themselves. At food pantries, the same approach would be used to inventory and identify the higher usage categories. For the consumer, the benefits of this systematic innovation is not limited to grocery store shopping but also clothing stores, hardware stores, and other various consumer needs. However, the application might not be for everybody due to its price, and might take a while to integrate each level in the system.

A large initial investment would be required for the whole system including the hardware and programming and consumers would need some training in how to use the technology. Overall, despite the system challenges, the case for innovation is clear, consumers want to leverage technology to save money and time, especially with their weekly shopping experience.
KC's View:
Forget college. Somebody ought to offer this kid a job.

Just kidding. (I don’t want to get the reputation as being anti-college.)

What’s impressive to me about this is the extent to which she has thought it through and finds this way of interacting with food retail completely relevant to the way she wants to live her life. If retailers are to achieve any kind of long-term relevance, they also need to be thinking this way. Or, at the very least, hiring young people who think this way.