Interactive Entertainment, Pharmacists, Bankers
Beyond groceries, AutoCart will also feature DVD/game rentals, florists, pharmacies and full-service banking services, complete with the bank drive-through pneumatic tubes. After an order has been placed, the customer is directed to a pickup station, where the experience starts to resemble a distant ancestor of AutoCart: the drive-in movie. "When the car gets to one of the pickup stations, a large screen comes down in front of the car and customers can watch CNN or Fox News" while listening to the audio through their car radio, Beardsley said. But they are also envisioning much more futuristic uses, such as two-way video links with a nearby pharmacist or banker."Were trying to make it very interactive, even entertaining," said Beardsley, adding that buttons on the nearby kiosk would provide a way for customers to speak with the video pharmacist or even to ask a technical sales rep "a question about what printer cartridge you need to buy for your HP printer."Back in the warehouse, as the customer places an order for each item, the software identifies what warehouse zone its in and sends a wireless voice message to the worker in that area. Every product has a barcode license plate on it, and the conveyor takes the products to a consolidation area, where groceries are combined. For global chains, barcode identifications need to mean the same things overseas that they do here. The latest retail standards are trying to address that. To read more, click here. All of that happens in a warehouse out of sight of the customers. Will there be any employees at all near the customers? "You wont see anybody. Maybe you might see the guy sweeping the parking lot. Other than that, youre just dealing with the machine," Beardsley said. Beyond the greater efficiencies in this sort of warehouse-based setup, the fact that the warehouse is smaller than the typical larger retail store also means that it will carry fewer products, which cuts inventory costs. "Instead of carrying 20 brands of shampoo, an AutoCart would carry three, but theyll be the faster turning items," said Al Jervinsky, the national accounts manager for FKI Logistex, which is helping with AutoCarts launch. "This will be a store where a person can shop for the fastest-selling brands." Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.