"Self-checkouts on wheels" are coming to a supermarket near you, says the chief executive of the country's largest supermarket operator.
High-tech trolleys with barcode scanners built into the handlebar and tablet screens displaying items and the checkout prices in real-time show a glimpse of what's to come for grocery shopping, tipped to increasingly become digital and online-based in coming years, says Foodstuffs chief executive Chris Quin.
These trolleys, which Quin says are effectively self-checkouts on wheels, will be rolled out early next year for the first time in Foodstuffs' newest store, its Pukekohe New World supermarket in Auckland, which opened this morning.
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Shoppers can use the trolleys as they normally would, with the technology designed to streamline the checkout process and avoid waiting in queues. At the end of a shop a barcode will be generated which a checkout operator will scan and the payment can be made manually, or payment can be approved instantly through the supermarket's app.
Quin says the supermarket operator would trial the high-tech trolleys it calls "Zoom trolleys" at the Pukekohe store, with the intention being to roll them out to its network of supermarkets next year.
The intention is to replace traditional trolleys with the tech-savvy equivalent. Foodstuffs plans to start rolling the trolleys out to its 99 New World stores before rolling them out to Pak'nSave and Four Square stores.
"It is going to be a progressive roll out from just after the busy summer period," Quin told the Herald. "We're going to start with New World and see what we learn and make sure customers love it then we'll go from there.
"We have a feeling that customers are going to want this to happen relatively quickly."
The trolleys were inspired by the self-checkout experience and have been under development for 18 months. The trolleys will be able to send alerts to staff about items in customers' trolleys that need age identification, and enable staff and shoppers to communicate through the tablet, Quin said.
"We'll be able to communicate with customers through the tablet screen to say 'here's something you may be interested in' or 'you've bought two but you might want three because there is a deal', interaction with the customer that doesn't happen today."
He was unable to say how much Foodstuffs had invested in the technology.
With time, the supermarket would establish areas for "Zoom trolley checkout", he said.
Foodstuffs built the technology
Quin told the Herald the supermarket operator had built the technology in the trolleys itself over a period of 18 months "in a classic little dark room" in its Mt Roskill headquarters.
"The first version, they were pretty horrible," he said. "They were made using 3D printers, basically prototyping.
"The hardware itself that sits on the trolley is in many ways the easiest part of this ... making it work with our SAP system, which is the software we use at the core of our stores, and making it so that the customer is effectively shopping as if they were using a self-checkout being wheeled around the store - that's where the clever work has been."
Foodstuffs previously had a partnership with New Zealand grocery software start-up Imagr, trialling similar technology, though focused on stored photographic images of products instead of barcode readers.
"We felt that barcode reading was something very familiar and works really well and very trusted in our industry at the moment which is where we decided to start."
High-tech trolleys were a glimpse of what was to come in the grocery sector, Quin said. "There's no doubt that online shopping is going to grow but I think when it comes to food, we have a personal relationship with food, and people like to choose their fresh product themselves ... I still think stores are going to be a place people are going to want to come to, to be inspired and engage with their shopping, and making that as frictionless as possible is really important."
The trolleys have electronic location trackers and Quin said he did not expect the trolleys to be stolen from stores once they become widely available.