Safeway’s in-store TV system is a sign of things to come as big chains
meet the challenges of new technology, writes Julian Lee
Supermarkets have seen the future - and they don’t like the look of it.
Pundits are telling them it could mean home shopping and the concept of
the supermarket becoming obsolete.
Management consultancy Andersen Consulting forecasts that by the year
2000 20% of supermarket shopping will be done through electronic
In order to survive, supermarkets are having to adapt.
One such versatile retailer is Holland’s leading chain, Albert Heijn,
which has developed a new concept store that is a radical departure from
It has a central food area where chefs demonstrate how to use the
products on sale and a food bar where the food is prepared in front of
you to eat in or take away.
Customers can then browse an outer aisle selling goods in a conventional
fashion, stop and scan a product for more information or even talk by
phone to a major manufacturer, such as Procter & Gamble, about a
Safeway, the UK’s third largest supermarket chain, has been leading the
way in technological innovations in this country.
It is rolling out its Shop ‘n’ Go self-scanning systems and auto pay
points are being introduced. Last week it began trials of an in-store TV
system that could evolve into interactive terminals that communicate
with individual customers. Not only is the technology working but it is
expected to deliver increased future profits as wastage, supply chain
efficiencies and lower staffing levels take effect.
According to stockbrokers Kleinwort Benson, self-scanning should boost
profits by pounds 30m by 1999.
With the advent of the Internet and online services, supermarkets are
being forced to accommodate a customer who, in the near future, will be
confronted with a myriad of buying opportunities.
In order to stand out, the supermarket will be expected to offer a range
of services that will make it easier for the consumer to shop.
Rune Gustafson, a director of retail design and strategy consultants
20/20, says the retailers which use technology as a communication tool
rather than just a quick fix to a problem will be the survivors.
‘Customers are demanding more relevant information about the products
they buy,’ he says. ‘If technology can help them in this then they
[retailers] can help them reach a buying decision much more quickly.’
If retailers move fast enough they can ride the technological wave
rather than be swept aside by it, claims Bob Tyrrell, chairman of the
‘Superstores might end up having a different function as the
distinctions between home shopping and normal shopping blur. The idea of
having stock on the shelves will be redundant. What you might find is
that they act as showcases and the customer can then order and browse at
their leisure,’ he says.