A Smarter Smart Cart?

With Fujitsu’s new high-tech shopping cart, the cart knows your shopping list before you arrive at the store, can direct you to where the items are and pay for the merchandise while you’re still in the aisle.

With a craving for broiled salmon, Jane quickly sifted through her spice cabinet only to find that her bottle of dill weed was nearly empty.

With a few clicks on her Bluetooth-enabled PDA, she updated her Web shopping list with the dill, and a window opened onscreen suggesting a new salmon recipe. It looked good, so she approved the recipe and her shopping list was instantly updated with all of the necessary items, omitting those that her kitchen already had in stock.

Jane drove the half-mile to her local supermarket where she grabbed a smart cart, scanned her loyalty card and saw her updated shopping list appear in front of her. It had been categorized by aisle, and the cart directed Jane to each item. While she was checking for brown spots on broccoli heads in the produce aisle, her cart signaled the pharmacy to prepare a prescription refill and sent an order for lunch meats to the deli.

Everything that Jane just did will be available to select American consumers over the next few months, as their grocers deploy a new line of smart carts announced this week by Fujitsu.

Are these carts state-of-the-art and cutting edge for retail technology? Its a matter of perspective. Compared with the best European and Asian retail chains, American retailers are electronic laggards, especially in the grocery segment.

/zimages/5/28571.gifHow do U.S. retail IT shops compare with their Asian and European counterparts? To find out, click here.

Even compared with U.S. retail technology discussions, these carts are merely deploying and productizing capabilities that have been publicly discussed for more than a year. But compared with what is actually being used—and even offered—with todays American grocery retailers, these Fujitsu carts are positively Jetsons.

Equipping an ordinary shopping cart with Fujitsus new U-Scan Shopper unit will cost about $1,200. That price also includes about 60 infrared triggers to be strategically placed along various store shelves—sort of like Hansel and Gretels fictional breadcrumbs—to help the cart find its path around the store. Fujitsu is hoping to sell 100 carts at each typical grocery store, according to Vernon Slack, Fujitsus director of mobile solutions.

/zimages/5/28571.gifSmart carts are one of the hottest retail technology trends expected for this year. Click here to read more.

Fujitsu said the unit is involved in two large-scale grocery chain betas this spring, with general release targeted for the end of this year. Slack said one of the retail betas is a national chain with more than 2,000 stores and the other is a "more than 100-store" regional chain. He would not name the chains.

"The U-Scan Shopper is the ultimate customer touch point. It will significantly change the future of the retail front-end," Slack said. "It puts service and checkout in the consumers hands, reducing the reliance on the point-of-sale for customer service and freeing store personnel to help customers in the aisles."

The display units browser-based application runs on Microsoft Windows CE .Net and integrates with major POS (point-of-sale) applications, Fujitsu said.

Next Page: The Fujitsu Smart Cart Differentiators.