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Wheeling Into the Future

RFID-enabled shopping carts can benefit retailers and consumers.
By Alexander C.H. Skorna and André Richter
Aug 06, 2007—By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Why is there a traffic jam in aisle three? What's on sale? And where are all the shopping carts? Now smart shopping carts, fitted with RFID tags and interrogators, are giving retailers new insights into the shopping habits of their customers, while making shopping less of a chore for consumers.

Media Cart Holdings, a retail marketing company, developed an RFID shopping system that's a marketing tool for consumer packaged goods companies and a way for grocery stores to improve shoppers' experiences. ShopRite, a Northeast grocery chain, is currently testing the system at two of its New Jersey supermarkets.

The MediaCart wagon can tell shoppers about special promotions and help them locate items in the store.

Each shopping cart is outfitted with a ThingMagic 4E RFID interrogator, a power supply and a color monitor. The store shelves are fitted with passive EPC Gen 2 tags from Avery Dennison. As a shopper moves down an aisle, the cart reads the IDs encoded onto the tags and sends them via the store's Wi-Fi network to a central MediaCart database, which sends commands back to the cart's monitor to play select video advertisements.

"The ads are based on the [CPG] firm's desire to trigger certain products based on the customer's location," says Jon Kramer, Media Cart's chief marketing officer. For example, a CPG company might run an ad for cookies when a shopper passes the milk display, or the ad could highlight a special promotion for a particular soda when a shopper enters the soft-drink aisle. The revenue from the ads covers the retailer's cost for the system's RFID infrastructure and software, and the carts cost the same as standard ones.

Consumers can use the system to locate a product by keying in the name on the monitor's touchscreen. Media Cart plans to add a new feature to the system that would allow consumers to create shopping lists at home on the retailer's Web site. In the store, consumers could scan their loyalty card on the cart's bar-code scanner, and the cart's monitor would display the list and guide the shopper from one item to the next.

Intelligentz, an RFID systems integrator, has developed an RFID mapping system that tracks the movement of shopping carts, so retailers can glean insights into consumers' shopping habits. A proprietary 2.45 GHz active tag attached to each cart transmits a unique ID number to RFID interrogators mounted throughout the store. Readers with long-range antennas are mounted outside the store to locate carts in the parking lot. The company's Pangaea RF Pro Web-based software collects the tag IDs over Wi-Fi and plots them on a map. Michael Lucas, CEO of Intelligentz, says a large grocery chain has piloted the cart-tracking application and plans to purchase and roll out the system.
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