How smart-cards could save you going off your trolley

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The Independent Online
SIEMON SCAMELL-KATZ has seen the future, and it doesn't contain supermarket trolleys.

Mr Scamell-Katz, founding partner of ID Magasin, a small retail design consultancy, is wooing the big grocery chains. He hopes to persuade one of them to invest in a pilot store which, he says, would revolutionise the way we do our food shopping.

Out would go those damnable, unsteerable trolleys. Out, too, go the check-outs, and even the actual groceries.

The hypothetical supermarket of the future features a series of small displays. Instead of shelfloads of baked beans, for example, the store displays a solitary tin - or, indeed, just a picture of one - beside an electronic terminal with a slot.

Customers slide personalised smart-cards through the slot to make a purchase. Their purchases are assembled in the back-room, where the stock is stored, and delivered directly to their homes. Payment is settled electronically.

Mr Scamell-Katz says he got the idea after 'a very unpleasant Saturday morning in an Asda superstore. I spent an hour bumping into other shoppers' trolleys and half-an-hour in a queue at the check-out.'

ID Magasin has invested pounds 25,000 developing the ideas and systems. Based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, IDM's clients include Marks & Spencer and Comet.

The trolleyless store could yield large savings for grocers, it claims. There would be no need for shelf- fillers or checkout operators. Customer theft would be eliminated. Stores would not have to be as large. Customers, freed of trolley anguish, would spend more.

That's the theory. In practice, shoppers like to see and touch what they are buying, say sceptical retailers. (IDM says it would make an exception for perishables).

Cost savings in the front of the shop might be offset by extra expenses in the back, where a large workforce would be needed to fulfil each order. The reduction in theft might not amount to much. Supermarket groups privately believe most 'shrinkage' is perpetrated by their own staff, who would still have access to the stock.

One supermarket executive says the sheer volume of shoppers in a typical store makes the whole idea pie in the sky. 'You'd get huge queues to use the terminals.'

As for home delivery, most of the supermarket groups have experimented with the idea and found it does not pay.

Nevertheless retailers are increasingly interested in some of IDM's concepts. In Chicago, Andersen Consulting has set up an exhibit Smart Store 2000, which displays similar ideas.

'Stores are only just beginning to realise the potential of smart- card technology,' says Mr Scamell-Katz, who remains confident he will find a company prepared to back his vision.