Smart Store is not a real shop but a demonstration of the next wave of technology, beckoning us to a brighter shopping future with no more check-out queues, no more seeking out boring necessities and no more sweet-grabbing children.
A valued customer may be handed a data wand to wave at the bar codes of routine, bulky items such as nappies and cereals. The order will then be assembled behind the scenes, leaving customers to make more exciting purchases. This will mean big savings on floor space for the supermarkets, says Kevin Duffill, manager of Smart Store, which has been set up by Andersen Consulting, the management consultants. 'In Smart Store, 24 boxes of cereal are displayed in about four feet of shelf space. In conventional supermarkets, the cereals occupy more than 45 feet.'
Smart Store is not open to the public. Andersen Consulting has set up the pounds 3m showcase to demonstrate the latest technology to retailers, distributors and manufacturers.
One thing existing supermarkets have in common with old-fashioned grocery stores is queues. The supermarket of the future will not have any check-outs. Customers will swipe their own bar codes as they put each item into the trolley, and then pay the total without having to get everything out of the trolley and put it back in again.
It will not be possible to cheat, because if the bar code of the future is not swiped it will be clever enough to activate an alarm.
Trolleys will have video displays on the front to guide shoppers around the store. The displays will conveniently draw attention to special offers. 'You've bought the pasta, now try our tasty pasta sauce at an amazing discount price.'
Parents need not worry about how the baby will fit into this trolleyful of technology. The video display will keep it quietly amused with cartoons on the other side.
These gadgets may be a draw for shoppers, but their real value will come from the communications networks that link them all together.
This will provide a stream of information on buying patterns and stock levels that will tell retailers how to organise their floor space and when to offer discounts, and will drive stock-control and ordering systems. For those who do not want to go out, Smart Store demonstrates virtual shopping at home. This uses a high-definition television with remote control, which will take armchair shoppers to the virtual shopping arcade.
Smart Store is strictly about technology that is ready for commercial application, so it is not yet possible to select virtual clothes and try them on. However, shoppers can change the colour of the garments displayed on the screen, and try them against models.
Virtual shopping is about to arrive in the United States - Andersen Consulting is currently working to develop a virtual reality shopping centre for a commercial customer. This will feature shops as seen in real shopping centres, run by retailers renting virtual reality real estate.
The Smart Store demonstration does not stop at technology for shoppers. It also shows how technology will change the whole of the supply chain, from the store manager's office to the warehouse, and back to the manufacturer. 'Colossal savings and benefits will be unlocked if the retailer and manufacturer work together to align their ordering and replenishment processes,' says John Hollis, Smart Store's director.
Retailers will give manufacturers access to real-time, point-of-sale information, allowing them to cut costs through improved control of production and stock levels.
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