26th February 2014

Satnav for your shopping trolley?

By Michael Wood on Wednesday February 26, 2014

Ever got lost hunting for the coffee aisle? Or spent hours endlessly circling the fruit and veg section, looking for the butternut squash? Well worry no more!

Dutch tech firm, Philips, has developed a brand new mobile phone app to help you find your way around your local supermarket.

Currently being piloted at a selection of stores on the Continent, the new app enables users to enter their weekly shopping list or even a favourite recipe, so that it can identify the exact location of each item, and plot the most efficient route through the aisles to reach them.

The app also offers suggestions for ready meals or recipes, and alerts users to offers and discounts on favourite products as they move through the store.

The technology works by using a system of intelligent LED lights fixed to key locations in the store that acts as a GPS-style grid. Each light then signals its position on the network to the app, so it can guide users through the supermarket, just like a car satnav.

If the trial is successful, presumably, we won’t be able to download and use the app right away, but will have to wait until the developers get round to rigging up our local store. I’m intrigued, though, by its potential effect on my consumer habits when it does reach my little part of the world.

As the kind of shopper who, upon arrival at the store, makes a beeline towards where I know the things I want to buy will be, I don’t like to be forced to browse shelf-by-shelf for desired products by shop floors freshly rearranged to confuse me and tempt me into spending more than I actually want. An app like this would be a godsend for the more business-like consumer.

However, it also has the potential of seriously impeding traditional supermarket marketing techniques. In a retail space where consumers are directed immediately to the products they have purchased before, how can new brands stand out among their competitors? What use would a striking packaging design be, if people are led straight past it without browsing? How can retailers showcase all their wares and convince shoppers to spend more with them?

But, given enough time, the app could open up a whole new marketing platform for brand owners. Who knows?

Maybe in the future we will see household names buying ad space on the app to publicise discounts, limited edition products, or other promotions to consumers as they pass them on the shelf, encouraging an almost immediate sale? Perhaps retailers will be able to pay for the app to suggest specific recipe or meal ideas to direct shoppers’ attention to products they are particularly keen to sell?

We have a long way to go before ‘trolley satnav’ becomes an integral part of the shopping experience. It remains to be seen whether there is a place for it alongside online shopping, which has the additional advantage of saving people having to go to the shops at all. However, if it does succeed, I think it has the potential to change the face of our local supermarket for good.