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Supermarkets: High-Tech Hotbeds

samzenpus posted about 10 months ago | from the lettuce-technology dept.

Technology 126

Esther Schindler writes "You don't think of your supermarket as the source of geeky innovation, but you may be surprised. For example, in Steven Cherry's Supermarkets Are High-Tech Hotbeds, a Techwise Conversation with Kurt Kendall, a partner and director at Kurt Salmon, where he heads the analytics practice there, we learn: 'A lot of supermarket tech is at the checkout area. Bar-code scanning was already old hat when U.S. president George Bush the elder was allegedly amazed by them in 1992, and retailers continue to experiment with the next logical step: self-checkout systems. There's a lot of technologies out there right now that are being introduced into the retail space to understand what consumers are doing in the store, and heat-mapping is one of those technologies--using cameras in the ceiling to actually track where the consumer's going. What this information tells the retailer is where a consumer is, how they're moving around the store, whether they're dwelling in certain places, like checkout or in front of specific merchandise."

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126 comments

How much tech for a nickel? (3, Interesting)

justthinkit (954982) | about 10 months ago | (#43952955)

How much tech can you have in an industry with profit margins of 1 or 2%?

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (3, Interesting)

ArcherB (796902) | about 10 months ago | (#43953009)

How much tech can you have in an industry with profit margins of 1 or 2%?

1% of a lot of money is still a lot of money. Businesses that do more business can afford to take smaller profit margins because they deal with such larger volumes. For example, a convenience store that does $10,000 worth of business over a weekend won't make it on 1% profit. That's a mere $100. But a grocery store that does $1,000,000 over that same weekend will do just fine on the same 1% as that is $10,000 profit.

$10,000 buys a lot more technical investment than $100.

Re: How much tech for a nickel? (2)

peragrin (659227) | about 10 months ago | (#43953055)

Markets with 1% margin tend to be the most aggressive with anything that can boost that to 1.1%

Lazy companies are the ones that make steady profit. And never expect the market to change. Like the entertainment industry

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

Gavin Scott (15916) | about 10 months ago | (#43953079)

When you have 600 billion dollars in sales, an exotic technology that gives you a tenth of a percent more profit is worth $600,000,000, so honestly the thinner your profit margins are, the higher your cash-flow must be (or you wouldn't bother with the business to begin with) so such businesses will probably always be early tech / efficiency adopters and will always be pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

If I had some new tech that was applicable, these are exactly the customers I would seek out.

G.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about 10 months ago | (#43953181)

Is that EBITA or net? Net 2% isn't too bad, and of course is post-tech profit.

Which would be the right way to calculate 'profit'.

And this story brings up the reason why I don't log into WiFi in the stores I go to. With that, they track everything. Think not? You cling to your antiquated ideas of privacy, my friend. And read the Ts&Cs offered. Yeah, I know; tl:dr.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (4, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 10 months ago | (#43953315)

How much tech can you have in an industry with profit margins of 1 or 2%?

The net probably varies by store, but the old song about the grocer only making a penny or two on each item is long worn-out, even counting for inflation-driven price increases. There may be certain items in each store that are loss-leaders, but when I see whole-dollar differences in prices from store to store and have a general idea on what the wholesale prices are, it's hard to feel the pathos they desire.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953629)

Wholesale prices vary depending on quantity. I did some work for a charity food drive and spoke to the owner of a single (non-chain) grocery store. He offered to let me have pallets of food at cost, but in some cases his cost was more than what I could pay for the same thing at a wholesale club (a nationwide chain).

dom

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 10 months ago | (#43954141)

Just remember your only seeing product profit when you do that math. actual profits after you pay for the store, transportation, employee's, etc are much much lower.

A store doing $100,000 in annual sales at 30% average profit on product brings in $30,000 From that they have to pay usually 1-2 employee's, etc. building, power, overhead expenses, etc.

It is why things like taking apart the latest gizmo to see how much it cost is generally bogus. you miss out on all the overhead that is behind it and that takes up the bulk of the expenses. It takes a business years to build up enough momentum to be able to pay bills on time.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

ewibble (1655195) | about 10 months ago | (#43954675)

I believe Super markets also sell shelf locations to suppliers, people have a tendency not to look up or down, eye level product placement is premium real estate and large shops sell it. Those displays are probably not free either.

As a side note I think this may be a model for more shops as internet shops are cheaper, the value of physical store may be their ability to "advertise" certain products, which they may be able to charge the manufacture for.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 10 months ago | (#43955587)

Not to mention waste.... Produce is always a gamble for grocery stores because while they may make a lot of money on the peaches they sell, they lose on the one's that they don't.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954563)

Yeah, grocery is actually a much more lucrative business than many people suspect. There's a certain irony to how much Publix (an employee-owned, Florida grocery store chain) exposes that by how well they treat the community and their staff. Their pharmacy provides free antibiotics (two-week supply of six of the most popular types) to anyone with a prescription, they have a tuition reimbursement program, they have massive community involvement, and they have the nicest grocery stores you've ever seen with happy, genuinely helpful staff (as opposed to the rude slackers you'll find in a Farm Fresh or a Food Lion further north), probably because, as an employee-owned business, they've had incredible labor relations (never a single layoff since it was founded in 1930). They're able to give away a lot of money and pay their employees well (and keep them around even during economic downturns), yet the prices are the same as the Winn-Dixie down the street; just goes to show how much money is getting siphoned off into profits and dividends in retail.

Re: How much tech for a nickel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43957543)

I work for a grocery store and see our cost on products. 30-50% mark up is common for food items. Non-food starts at 100% mark up for most items.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 10 months ago | (#43953607)

How much tech can you have in an industry with profit margins of 1 or 2%?

well if your margins are that bad(they aren't) you're going to want to use all technology you possibly can to remove labor costs.

and USA with their baggers.. the profit margin isn't really that bad, else you wouldn't have them. and don't get me even started on paying people to say "hi" when you enter the place.

Re: How much tech for a nickel? (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 10 months ago | (#43955715)

You would be surprised. Kroger just got done installing sensors in all of their stores, which they can use to predict front-end traffic, allowing them to open registers to account for who's going to be checking out 10 minutes from now, rather than 10 minutes ago. It's been working good enough that their stated goal is to have one person being actively checked out, and one person unloading a cart behind them, and no one waiting behind that.

It seems to be working - I wait way less than I used to.

Re:How much tech for a nickel? (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 10 months ago | (#43957769)

How much tech can you have in an industry with profit margins of 1 or 2%?

I dunno. Why don't we ask Amazon? After all, they operate on razor thin margins, but make up for it with high volume, and they seem to have a decent amount of tech going on, wouldn't you agree? Not just in terms of their web services either, but also in terms of their warehouse technology (e.g. they bought Kiva last year and have been deploying its robots [youtube.com]).

In truth, I think that you have it entirely backwards, since high-volume, low-margin companies, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, are only able to exist due to the efficiency afforded by decent technology and improved methods of operation. In most cases, without employees that are made more efficient through the use of technology, they'd have to increase their margins to cover the additional manpower they'd need, which would push them right out of the low-margins game.

Grocery stores operate similarly. They've been able to increase their margins by making their employees more efficient through the use of technology, and the bar code really was a rather amazing piece of technology when it first came out (reading the story about how IBM won the contract to make the system and what the competing designs were is a fascinating story, though I don't have a link handy). Of course, if Amazon groceries starts to spread out from Seattle finally, then the local grocery stores will have a hard time keeping up, since technology will only go so far when you're competing against a company with an end-to-end supply chain that's already been fine-honed for national distribution.

Here's an idea (1, Funny)

houbou (1097327) | about 10 months ago | (#43953025)

Start with the identification process. Create a system where your unique DNA is basically your everything. SSN, Banking, Medical History, etc.. EVERYTHING. Then, when you go to shop, take something leave and let the store's system scan YOU and your items as you leave and it will know enough to deduct it from your banking. :)

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953209)

Some people don't have unique DNA...

Re:Here's an idea (1)

houbou (1097327) | about 10 months ago | (#43953223)

well between DNA and fingerprints then.. Because identical twins, don't have identical finger prints.

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953347)

My identical twin has no fingers, you insensitive clod!

Re:Here's an idea (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 10 months ago | (#43953411)

No, one of the twins will have to get cancer to alter their DNA. Obviously, this will have to be induced prior to the child entering the school system.

Re:Here's an idea (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 10 months ago | (#43953593)

well between DNA and fingerprints then.

You cannot assume that DNA is unique.
You cannot assume that fingerprints are unique.
You cannot assume that a person has fingerprints.
You cannot assume that a person has fingers.
You cannot assume that DNA will not be trivially replicated/faked
You cannot assume that fingerprints will not be trivially replicated/faked
You cannot assume that fingerprints will not change
You cannot assume that DNA will not change

You cannot even assume that a person has only 1 type of DNA in their body.

It's easy to make generalizations
it's hard to account for all the edge cases.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

houbou (1097327) | about 10 months ago | (#43953841)

Well, here's the gig: When we will be able to glean useful information from the epigenetic portion of DNA, then we will be able to deal with identical twins.

That is something we need to work on, however, who says it has to stop at using DNA? Maybe in tandem with a microchip perhaps.

There are ways of creating totally unique identification markers.

At the moment any systems we currently have can be faked and/or hacked, the goal is to make it extremely hard, next to impossible to do so. I think that using our own DNA with epigenetic information is the way to go.

Certainly, those of you who think otherwise, at the very least, offer something better then.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

AJWM (19027) | about 10 months ago | (#43954665)

When we will be able to glean useful information from the epigenetic portion of DNA, then we will be able to deal with identical twins.

Um, no.

Forensic DNA analysis already uses the epigenetic portion of DNA, since the useful stuff is far more likely to be identical between individuals. But the epigenetic stuff is still inherited (although somewhat less reliably) from parents, and is the same between identical twins. Said twins are, after all, clones.

And anyone whose had a transplant (especially a bone marrow transplant) or a recent transfusion or is one of the not-all-that-rare instances of a person who merged with a potential fraternal twin while still in utero will have cells with different DNA.

There are ways of creating totally unique identification markers.

But it's very, very difficult to keep them unique if somebody has an interest in copying them.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 10 months ago | (#43956369)

There are ways of creating totally unique identification markers.

We'll just implant an RFID chip. 665 was just implanted, and you're in luck! No waiting in this line!

Re:Here's an idea (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 10 months ago | (#43953615)

Start with the identification process. Create a system where your unique DNA is basically your everything. SSN, Banking, Medical History, etc.. EVERYTHING. Then, when you go to shop, take something leave and let the store's system scan YOU and your items as you leave and it will know enough to deduct it from your banking. :)

that's a pretty old idea that's a bit harder to get right than it is to come up with the idea, it's been peddled in near future predictions for two decades..

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Livius (318358) | about 10 months ago | (#43957379)

But it's really inconvenient when you are a victim of identity theft and you have to get new DNA.

How supermarkets get your data – and what t (3, Interesting)

auric_dude (610172) | about 10 months ago | (#43953061)

It doesn't matter if you are part of a loyalty scheme, pay by card or even cash, 'Big Brother' supermarkets know your every move http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jun/08/supermarkets-get-your-data [guardian.co.uk]

Re: How supermarkets get your data – and wha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43955215)

Read the article, when you pay cash they cannot track you, they offer coupons based on what you are buying at the time. Articles like this are there to reinforce the idea that paying in cash wont protect your anonymity anyway, so you might as well use your credit card or even get a loyalty card. In other words it's propaganda designed to alter your behavior.

It also makes me wonder...do you have poor reading comprehension? Or did you phrase it that way for a reason?

Not an accusation, but astroturfing is the norm these days.

The one thing I dislike the most (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953069)

Stores are told,"If you confuse the customer, they're more likely to spend more"

So anymore you see"EVERYTHING IS ON SALE" then you need to think about each on what sales are actually bargains, and what is an already inflated price before 30% off hits and makes it still more expensive than another store.

Also some stores will constantly be in renovation mode, moving stuff all around the store. So if you expected to find bread where you looked last time, think again.

Re:The one thing I dislike the most (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953637)

Yeah, I figured out the little ruse involving tricking folks into buying two 50g loaves of bread for more than the cost of a regular 100g loaf, ages ago. (Difference was about £0.50-0.79, if I remember correctly - which doesn't seem like much to "richer" shoppers - but definitely makes a dent in the wallet, for lower-income folks).

Then again, they (Morrisons - a British supermarket chain) know that they're the only "bulk shopping" option in some places, and that the only other competition is from small newsagents, and franchise/chain convenience stores (e.g. Spar, and Nisa).

It's a never ending infowar (5, Insightful)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 10 months ago | (#43953131)

The supermarkets are one of the most active propaganda experts on the planet - the next generation of infowar is being fought there.

Forget the CIA ; their intelligence collection is old school.

The supermarkets want to skew their customers towards raising that margin of about 4% ; even a tiny skew is worth it to them.

So they profile your buying habits, they work out what you buy. They work out what everyone buys. They want to know what kind of person buys the high-end ice-cream, and other high-margin items. Quite aside from the obvious ploys, like putting coupons out for high margin items so you'll get into the habit of buying them, they'll coupon other items that aren't high margin, but they know that people who buy them are high-margin customers.

Alas, this means less shelf space for the items that low-margin customers buy, like basic staples. Who cares, you can get those things from the Mom & Pop store, right? Oh...

A whole host of infowar tricks, like reorganising the store shelves periodically to disrupt your "route" and get you in front of lines you don't usually buy.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (2, Interesting)

rickb928 (945187) | about 10 months ago | (#43953277)

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, you can find Durkees Fried Onion Rings on the shelf. Two days before, and all you can find is the store brand.

Is this because the brand name product is sold out, or because they understocked it, and are selling their brand at a higher profit to those who waited to the last moment to buy? After all, they wouldn't run out of that very popular ingredient on purpose, would they?

Contrast this with a competently-run convenience store, which relies on beer sales to make profits. Their goal is empty shelves Monday morning, not Sunday afternoon, selling every last drop. If they run out of Budweiser Sunday afternoon, they are losing sales because people will in fact drive to another store for their brand. A well-run store will stop listening to the Miller rep trying to convince them that people will buy Miller if Bud is out. And the Bud rep coming in on Monday will point out the Miller on the shelf and the Bud shelf empty, and tell them they lost sales. The Miller shelf would ALSO be empty if it were the right size, and they would have sold more Bud to go along with the Miller they were going to sell anyways. And yes, if there are three partial 6-packs left in a good-sized cooler, that is the equivalent of 'empty'.

But grocers know we do not so often drive to another store. And they can divert sales to store brands with different profits margins. And they don't have store brands of loyalty driven products such as beer. Don't think they can't play nice with the alcoholic beverage laws and make it happen.

They just don't see the profit opportunity yet.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953553)

Speaking from knowledge, profit margins are generally less on store brands. Plus there's never any money coming back from the manufacturer in the form of coupon payouts. Add to that the fact that it costs the same to ship and stock store brand, and it becomes even less of a conspiracy.

By the time we're two weeks out from any holiday, we will already be trying to sell the last of that stuff so we can move on to the next holiday. If we still have turkeys left the day before Thanksgiving, then we ordered way too many. If we still have 20 cases of french friend onions, be it store brand or name brand, that's a lot of product sitting in the back room wasting space for the next three months.

Basically all stores have switched to a just in time shipping method, meaning trying to keep as little stuff in the back as possible. While this increases efficiency and streamlines the daily processes, it also allows for less wiggle room when it comes to things like warehouse outs or manufacturer shortages. There's only so much that can actually be done on the store level.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 10 months ago | (#43957475)

Actually it is scarier than that. Just in time shipping has taken all the slack out of the supply chain. No one wants to stock more than they need to have before the next shipment arrives.

The downside is when things go wrong they really really go wrong for a long time.

Re: It's a never ending infowar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43957589)

I am the grocery manager for a QFC store. My order goes out at 4:00am to the warehouse and my freight shows up that day, usually around 8:00pm. This happens 7 days a week and it makes my job a lot easier. If we're out of something it's usually because our warehouse is.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about 10 months ago | (#43953401)

The supermarkets are one of the most active propaganda experts on the planet - the next generation of infowar is being fought there.

Forget the CIA ; their intelligence collection is old school.

The supermarkets want to skew their customers towards raising that margin of about 4% ; even a tiny skew is worth it to them.

So they profile your buying habits, they work out what you buy. They work out what everyone buys.

Quite right, and when you use your "rewards card", you give them detailed information about your individual buying habits, which is why I delight in the expressions I get when I decline their incessant offers to give me one - "No, thank you. My privacy is worth more to me than the few bucks I would have saved." I mean, slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, totally-don't-get-what-you-mean type stares. It's... "priceless".

Re:It's a never ending infowar (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 10 months ago | (#43953435)

You're referring to the till jockeys earning just north of minimum wage? That 'glassy-eyed' look is them not giving a fuck about your philosophical pontificating as they struggle on with life.

Feeling a sense of meaningless superiority is priceless.

For everything else, there's mastercard.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (2)

Noughmad (1044096) | about 10 months ago | (#43953461)

Quite right, and when you use your "rewards card", you give them detailed information about your individual buying habits, which is why I delight in the expressions I get when I decline their incessant offers to give me one - "No, thank you. My privacy is worth more to me than the few bucks I would have saved." I mean, slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, totally-don't-get-what-you-mean type stares. It's... "priceless".

Would you care to elaborate on that? This is a common sentiment on Slashdot, but I still don't think it's rational. What is the benefit of knowing that some corporation with millions of customers doesn't know what products you buy? I know there's a warm fuzzy feeling of 'sticking it to the man', but are the other, more tangible benefits?

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

Nexus7 (2919) | about 10 months ago | (#43953633)

If I buy a store brand potato chip all the time, and they give me a coupon for say, Frito Lays, I'm not like "hey, invasion of privacy", but more like "hmmm, only 25 c more for Frito, I'll try it, maybe I'll like it."

Sometimes a coupon is just a coupon.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about 10 months ago | (#43953487)

"A few bucks" is like their hourly wage. Also depending on the store the penalty for not using the card can double your cost...

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 10 months ago | (#43953505)

I have no idea if they actually do this, but I reckon they can profile you on any kind of card payment as well. You could tie purchases on a single card together without storing the card number (and thus contravening PCI regulations) if you hashed them. If they're not already doing this, I guarantee that they are prohibited from doing it by law. Of course, they can't actively mess with your buying habits by mailing you coupons without a club card.

It's not as bad as what I hear in the States, where they can offer different prices to card holders ; so they mark up the basics to an absurd price and make the sensible prices "club perks".

Lately I've been cooking for myself from scratch ingredients a lot more. My lasagne makes anything they stock taste like insipid slop, I enjoy the act of cooking it, and 600g of beef and a half-pack of bacon plus the rest (the meat is by far the most expensive part, plenty of veggies makes it healthier, tastier, AND more economical) has made me 12 portions. Hooray for foil trays from supermarket ready meals....

Re:It's a never ending infowar (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 10 months ago | (#43953533)

One neat trick I find is to mash up the garlic and the tomato before cooking with a pestle and mortar. I've no idea why but it makes the whole taste just awesome.

Not true (1)

abigsmurf (919188) | about 10 months ago | (#43953647)

Alas, this means less shelf space for the items that low-margin customers buy, like basic staples. Who cares, you can get those things from the Mom & Pop store, right? Oh...

Actually, this just isn't true. Basic staples will always be a main part of a supermarket and have the widest choice.

Yes supermarkets want you to buy the profitable high margin items but the most important thing is that they get you into the door to shop with them in the first place. If you go to a Supermarket and feel they don't have enough choice or, even worse, they don't stock the item you're after, you're probably not going to want to come back.

It's for this reason supermarkets also stock stuff they barely sell anything of, like DIY goods and budget office supplies. Only a tiny portion of customers will want some of these on a weekly shop but it means that a supermarket more and more becomes their first port of call when they need to buy something.

Re:It's a never ending infowar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43956285)

Just so you know, any time you use the word "infowar", you're immediately branded as a nutjob, you nutjob.

Been going on for years (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 10 months ago | (#43953231)

The latest thing I have noticed is the freezer cabinets are getting LED lighting and motion sensors. The kids (I am much too mature) run up and down the isles waving their hands to turn on the lights.

Re:Been going on for years (1)

54mc (897170) | about 10 months ago | (#43953307)

This is such a simple energy saver that it's kind of amazing they didn't come up with using one of the two parts (motion activation and LEDs) it much, much earlier.

Re:Been going on for years (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954629)

Energy savings that are instantly lost as soon as some schmuck opens the door to the freezer section and stands there with it wide for two minutes trying to decide if he wants the Hungry Man Pizza or the Hungry Man Buffalo Wings.

I don't think they installed them to actually save energy. To look like they're saving energy, maybe. Any actual energy saving is completely overwhelmed by the waste of the above schmuck and others like him. All that effort "saving" energy, gone literally into thin air...

(The above may be technically inaccurate because I have no idea what "Hungry Man" meals look like, I've never stopped to look.)

Re:Been going on for years (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954761)

Umm, that smuck was going to stand there with the door open regardless of which lightning tech they used. in the end, they are still using less power by having the better lighting system. It just sounds like you are complaining "They might be using less power... but... but they aren't using 50% less power as something still uses more than they save... and hence it doesn't count."

Re: Been going on for years (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 10 months ago | (#43955625)

The design of the refrigeration unit can help with this as well. I saw a demo where they used a smoke machine to illustrate the air currents in front of a meat display where there was a thermal layer being created that recycled the cold air in the case, and very little escaped. Of course, if the guy stocking the case blocks the vent even partially, the whole concept fails, but they are at least trying...

Re:Been going on for years (1)

Ambvai (1106941) | about 10 months ago | (#43953335)

I tend to shop at odd hours and have always found that creepy. It brings to mind of various sci-fi horror films where they're going down a long dark corridor and the lights turn on as they start walking through, usually with a loud ka-chunk and buzzing.

I disagree (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 10 months ago | (#43953363)

Supermarkets can't seem to get the most basic data processing concepts right. If they correctly applied ACID principals to their databases, it would be impossible for an advertised special to not ring up at the discounted price, or for an item picked up from the store shelves to not scan at all. But for us, this seems to happen more often than not, and it's been going on for decades.

Lame.

Re:I disagree (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953441)

...says the guy who can't spell "principles".

Re:I disagree (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 10 months ago | (#43953531)

Gee, it looks like I did make a careless mistake.

However, making grammatically correct posts on blogs isn't my career. OTOH, the people who can't seem to program their pricing systems are failing at their life's work.

Re:I disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43955245)

or the guy who put up the sign or made the advertisement just didn't tell the guy who programs the pricing system. It isn't always a database failure, sometimes it is just a careless mistake.

Re:I disagree (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 10 months ago | (#43953705)

You know God only does that to you because he knows how much it bothers you right? Doesn't happen to the rest of us :)

Re:I disagree (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954943)

If they correctly applied ACID principals to their databases, it would be impossible for an advertised special to not ring up at the discounted price

Unless the advertiser prints the ad too early.

Humans fuck up all the time. We're really good at it. Just look at your typo-ridden post if you need a reminder.

Re:I disagree (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 10 months ago | (#43956383)

Unless the advertiser prints the ad too early.

No, the ads are usually in the correctly dated flyers. The problem is that either: (a) the computer system that correlates the promotions and the actual prices is just plain hosed, or (b) as you suggest, they're not using a computer at all -- in which case the whole premise of the article is invalidated.

Humans fuck up all the time. We're really good at it. Just look at your typo-ridden post if you need a reminder.

Looks like I struck a nerve. You must be one of the incompetent developers who programs these systems. "Oh! but the margins are so low! Don't blame *us* for fraudulently shafting the customers! There isn't enough money to do it right!"

Re: I disagree (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 10 months ago | (#43955651)

It would help greatly if there was any standards for product data whatsoever. Only very recently has there been any efforts to standardize the metadata on products in a format that vendors and retailers can interchange, and if you think that a large grocer can just swap out all their merchandising systems overnight, the you don't know what it's like to work for a low-margin retailer. The average stat is that $100 of saved expense is equal to an additional $10k in sales. The slightest amount of shrink can be the difference between a profitable store, and a money siphon.

There are standards. (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 10 months ago | (#43956571)

It would help greatly if there was any standards for product data whatsoever. Only very recently has there been any efforts to standardize the metadata on products in a format that vendors and retailers can interchange, and if you think that a large grocer can just swap out all their merchandising systems overnight, the you don't know what it's like to work for a low-margin retailer. The average stat is that $100 of saved expense is equal to an additional $10k in sales. The slightest amount of shrink can be the difference between a profitable store, and a money siphon.

Frankly there are, and have been for years, UPC code databases, but you have to license them, unless you are willing to go for the vastly more incomplete consumer assembled EAN/UCC-13 code sites. My first experience with a licensed UPC database was in 1995, but I was aware of NCR systems where you could get them in 1985 or so. They used to come on QIC-20 tapes for loading into the NCR Tower XP and Tower 32 systems that they used to use to run all the cash registers in the supermarket. Now you can get them on DVD.

There are also food ingredient databases, but they tend to be more sketchy, particularly for store brands, which generally come off the assembly line that's currently cheapest. There is also a push for cost reduction on store brands, so they will tend to initially go with a higher end supplier when they bring out a new store brand something, and several moths after it's out, you'll read the label and find they've substituted corn syrup for the cane sugar and similar cost reduction tricks.

It's a real bitch if you have, for example, a corn allergy, or Crohn's disease, and they've bait-and switched things on you. You also have to watch the fried foods, such as prepackaged dinners, when they decide to use peanut oil instead of some other more expensive oil, because it was cheapest on the commodity food oil market for the plant that week.

They don't data mine this stuff from your frequency marketing card because there would be some legal liability both from a HIPPA information standpoint, and if they changed a formulation, and hadn't updated their database recently enough to flag an allergen at the checkout.

Waffle Iron, arm chair expert idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43957017)

What's lame is your arrogance matching your ignorance. In parts of Europe wifi digital shelf tags have reached grocery shelves. Those should help but in the US, large grocery retailers are still using manual tags pulled and hung every week by different teams than those who stock who are different teams than those who made ordering decisions at a higher level and different from those at the manufacturing level and so forth.

Sometimes the warehouse sends you product ahead of time for a shelf-reset and it's mixed with a current order for efficient logistics. Sometimes even the store's own coupons for their own brand products fail at the register because of a human error elsewhere. Sometimes items are tagged wrong or manufacturers roll out new SKUs.

Stop your whining and think for a second how much product and data flows through, how many points of failure there are, how many lines of code might have errors, never mind the human factors at every point...

Get back to us when your own work product is error free.

Re:Waffle Iron, arm chair expert idiot (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 10 months ago | (#43957081)

So, it's not "High-Tech Hotbed", but just a fucked up mess. And a fraudulent one at that.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Re:I disagree (1)

Livius (318358) | about 10 months ago | (#43957393)

And you know it's unintentional and random because it works in the customer's favour 50% of the time...

Self Checkout - Bah Humbug (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953429)

The self-check is the worst idea since Slice Bread - I absolutely refuse to use them. If there aren't regular tills open. I put everything back and leave the store...

Re:Self Checkout - Bah Humbug (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 10 months ago | (#43953571)

I hate them too. They have staff in our local markets who try to encourage you to use them. I try to be polite when they ask "Would you like to use the self-checkout?" and not say stuff like "No, I don't want to use the self-checkout so your vast oligarchic corporation can fire a couple of checkout girls and profit from me doing their job for myself instead. Your participation in this system either makes you as sheep, or a traitor to your class, so which are you?"

It's shit like this that makes me glad I work in a sector of IT (healthcare) which can at least pretend that increased automation might bring some benefits by increasing the amount of work that gets done, instead of decreasing the amount of labour doing it.

Re:Self Checkout - Bah Humbug (1)

54mc (897170) | about 10 months ago | (#43953589)

You put it back? That's nice of you. I've abandoned my cart in these lines before.
Protip the the Walmart in Houston - Dunvale. When there are literally more than a hundred people in line to check out, you should open the fourth checkout stand.

Re:Self Checkout - Bah Humbug (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953873)

I like them cause I dont get stuck behind some doofus with 4 cartloads of crap an insist's on writing a check

Re:Self Checkout - Bah Humbug (1)

PPH (736903) | about 10 months ago | (#43956905)

Haggen (Washington State) got rid of theirs. They were handy if you had a few items. But inevitably, they'd get some morons that couldn't scan their own groceries and they'd have to have clerks handy to help them out. Might as well just have the employees scan the stuff and be done with it.

And some not as high tech (1)

xQuarkDS9x (646166) | about 10 months ago | (#43953519)

Safeway for example at least in the USA and Canada was or still is using OS/2 to operate the tills. As recently as six months ago I remembered watching a manager reboot a till and on a 17 inch LCD screen it looked like OS/2 rebooting then bringing up their own till software.

Re:And some not as high tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43953709)

Shaw's recently migrated to OS/3.

Re:And some not as high tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43955443)

What does the OS have to do with it? If the program is well written it doesn't matter if it runs on OS/2, Linux or OSX.

High tech, you say? (2)

macraig (621737) | about 10 months ago | (#43953573)

How any of these allegedly high-tech supermarkets have backup generators to keep the food from perishing during a power outage?

Two days ago a Wal-Mart SuperCenter had an extended 16-hour power outage. Rather than act quickly and donate the imperiled food to the local food bank or even have a parking lot sale, the store management decided to "comp" all of it instead, destroying all of it so the suppliers would reimburse them in full.

All for lack of a backup generator that would have cost no more than the business they lost in those 16 hours. High-tech, you say?

Re:High tech, you say? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 10 months ago | (#43953729)

Sounds like good business practice no? Spend less and not have to depend on customers to get paid for everything in your store.

Re:High tech, you say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43955669)

Except for the whole not making any profit that they usually make off of selling the food. The suppliers only reimburse the wholesale price they paid for it.

Of course there is a missed opportunity at marketing and public relations that is good for business and earns them brownie points with the populace and as a result with regulators that come in handy when they do something stupid.

But hey, as long as you get to put a spreadsheet before people, that's what is important.

Not all high tech os 99.9999% reliability (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 10 months ago | (#43953885)

High tech is sometimes advanced probabilistic models. I know a fellow who works for Kroger on the east coast, and when there's a power issue he's uot busting his tail to allocate the generator resources he has to keep the food stock viable. Thing is, there are so many stores and so few extended outages that it doesn't make financial sense to equip all stores with BUGs. They have a number of mobile generators which can be dynamically allocated as needed. If there's a superstorm they are short handed and some food goes to waste, but it's less loss than the fixed cost of installing a generator, fuel tanks, and maintenance at every site.

Re:Not all high tech os 99.9999% reliability (1)

Ostrich25 (544788) | about 10 months ago | (#43954131)

They can also send a refrigerated trailer (reefers), which they did for several stores on the east coast last year when we had that derecho come ripping through. You and I might know the same fellow.

Re: High tech, you say? (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 10 months ago | (#43955675)

And then there's the other side of the coin - Ralph's in SoCal is building a biofuel generator at one of their distribution centers to generate on-site energy to power the refrigeration plants by using expired produce from stores. If it works the way it should, this may become the standard - turning shrink into an expense reduction.

Re: High tech, you say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43957643)

Do you have any idea how much power it takes to run the racks and racks of compressors a grocery store has? We have a generator to handle emergency lighting and the computer systems. When we had a scheduled power outage they brought in a semi trailer sized generator to power us.

Bagging Area... (3, Insightful)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 10 months ago | (#43953699)

please place your item in the bagging area thank you please place your item in the bagging area thank you.

Re:Bagging Area... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954289)

I wanted to capture one of those silly voices with my phone, but got shouted down by a security guard: "No filming. No filming". Maybe he was a robot too..

Manipulation (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 10 months ago | (#43953943)

"There's a lot of technologies out there right now that are being introduced into the retail space to understand what consumers are doing in the store, and heat-mapping is one of those technologies--using cameras in the ceiling to actually track where the consumer's going. What this information tells the retailer is where a consumer is, how they're moving around the store, whether they're dwelling in certain places, like checkout or in front of specific merchandise."

I'd bet most, if not all, their investments are going into this area. We need to ask ourselves if we really want to live in a world like this. Where you walk into a store and the placement of items, the color of the walls, even the music they are playing has been psychologically profiled to affect you in a way that makes you spend your money foolishly. Casinos already pump oxygen into the air to keep you awake longer and provide free drinks to make you do stupid things.

At some point in the not too distant future you're going to walk into a retail space to find instead of music their strange buzzing and clicking noises, followed by some wall displays that flash with strange colors in what can only be described as an epileptic pattern and then you're suddenly going to find yourself outside the store, your wallet empty and the irresistible urge to find the nearest ATM, get more and come back. It sounds like a joke, but it's entirely likely. How far away are we from the entrances to stores having MRIs built into the door frame?

Re:Manipulation (1)

Ostrich25 (544788) | about 10 months ago | (#43954155)

Ever go into a Kroger store and see those televisions hanging from the ceiling at the check out area? The ones with the big yellow circles and numbers? That's QueVision. Infrared sensors at the doors track how many people come in and out of the store, and sensors over each checkout line track how many people are waiting. All that gets processed, and the system tells the front end supervisor how many lanes they need to have open right then. (and predicts how many they'll need soon, too) This system doesn't track you as an individual throughout the store, it just reports how many people are in specific areas of the store.

Re:Manipulation (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 10 months ago | (#43954521)

the trick with the free drinks is to play slow on the $00.1 games some have bets as low as $0.01. I once hit a like a $30 win on $0.09 bet.

Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43954077)

We are treated like rats in a lab.

Then why is there no Chocolate Nutrament? (1)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 10 months ago | (#43954135)

Or chocolate ready to spread frosting, only strawberry and vanilla, the crap that no one wants. Once that is finally gone (it takes a long time) the shelves are restocked with equal amounts of each.

Once again I show up at the store to find a mountain of coca-cola products stacked to the ceiling with an empty space in the middle where Diet Coke used to be. And there beside it is a tall obelisk of caffine-free diet coke. Still there from last time.

The only time caffine-free diet coke is sold is when someone asks someone else to pick up a box of diet coke and they do not realize the difference.

Maybe they could use those infrared cameras to detect rises of heat and blood pressure as customers stand in front of empty shelves surrounded by unwanted products.

'Aye, I've got it tuff, I do. Cruel world it is. I think I'll go get a "pity me! ask me why" tattoo.

10 years ago called, they want their hi-tech back (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 10 months ago | (#43954151)

self-checkout, heat sensing, etc. etc.

I don't know where you are from but these were "live" in grocery stores in my part of the United States years ago.

Basic Search Engine (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 10 months ago | (#43954201)

Why is there not a Store Google? It takes forever to find something.

Re:Basic Search Engine (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 10 months ago | (#43954659)

they want you have to hunt for stuff and pass by other stuff that you may want to buy.

Re:Basic Search Engine (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 10 months ago | (#43955061)

If one market does it, then they'll take business away from all the other markets. Most guys hate shopping, we want to get in, pay, and get out fast.

Meh (1)

folderol (1965326) | about 10 months ago | (#43955469)

I have a piece of technology that totally wipes out their tricks. It is called a shopping list. I buy what's on it, and that's all. I have no store or loyalty cards and tell them I don't want a tracking card if they ask. I also frequently pay with cash. Finally I won't use the self checkouts. When they try to direct me to them I say something like "I'm in no hurry to put you out of a job".

Hi tech hardware store (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43956051)

It's the LCD price tags on the shelves that had me smiling. The ability to adjust prices, wirelessly?

Coming change in business model (1)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 10 months ago | (#43957003)

One of the key advantages any established grocery store has is its location. Often grocery stores were build on cheaper land that has now grown significantly in value. The result is that it is very hard for a new chain to acquire the huge prime tracts of land required for a modern grocery store chain. This is why most of the last 20-30 years has seen the most activity in "Power Centers" that are way outside of town. In some cases again town has reached out and surrounded these power centers but typically you must drive to these centers.

So for new radical entrants the price of admission is basically quite steep with the only realistic method of market entry being the take-over of an existing faltering chain with great locations. But with automated logistics combined with internet ubiquity grocery delivery is at the cusp of becoming mainstream. But I think the last piece of the puzzle will be roboticly driven delivery vehicles. Once that threshold is crossed then anyone who can raise the capital to buy some small warehouse along with a small fleet of delivery vehicles plus the initial marketing will be capable of taking on the big players turning their great location assets into liabilities.

So my prediction will be that the smart established players will jump into automated delivery and begin downsizing sooner but that most just won't see this coming and will ignore the upstarts mistakenly thinking that their unassailable awesome locations will see them through.

So even though these places seem very high-tech it will be even higher tech that will win the day.

Kroger's effective implementation (1)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | about 10 months ago | (#43957299)

My son recently worked as a supervisor at Kroger. He says that the system knows how many people are entering, exiting, and shopping in the store at any time. It knows how long the typical customer shops, and uses this to estimate when the next surge at the registers will occur. Before the surge happens, a display tells the supervisor when he needs to open another register, or two.

It also watches each line, to determine how long people are waiting for a cashier. The goal is a maximum of two minutes. If it sees that customers are waiting longer than that, the display notifies the supervisor to open another lane.

My own experience as a regular shopper at Kroger confirms that the system works very well, and it does indeed keep me coming back. I'm especially ready to go back to Kroger right after shopping at Wal-Mart, where their system apparently tells the supervisor to CLOSE lanes just as shoppers arrive at the registers!

Bush not amazed by scanners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43957439)

Re. Bush at the grocery store:

According to snopes.com [snopes.com], "Moreover, Bush had good reason to express wonder: He wasn't being shown then-standard scanner technology, but a new type of scanner that could weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes."

snopes.com then says that The New York Times and several other major news organizations reviewed a tape of Bush's conversation at the grocery store. Only The New York Times writers thought Bush was really impressed. The writers for Newsweek, Time and NCR thought Bush was just making polite conversation.

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