Supermarkets: Part two

Those self-service checkouts at supermarkets: constantly frustrating, yet I can’t resist using them. But reflecting on the subject led me to thinking about other parts of the supermarket experience, and how they might be improved to the benefit of both the business and the consumer. A couple of ideas occurred to me.

1) Checkout Bonus Points

Have you ever played Fruit Ninja? If you have, you’ll likely remember the unbounded glee of slicing through a perfect cocktail of fruit, and reaping the combo bonus points. If you haven’t, you may get a sense of it from this video.

What if supermarkets offered you bonus points on your loyalty cards for certain items, or combinations of items?

2) Companion Chef

I remember approximately 15 years ago shopping in Safeway with my dad, using those handheld barcode scanners to scan each item as we put it into the shopping cart. I think this technology still exists in Waitrose, but otherwise seems to have died off. Would it be possible first to revive this idea, then take this to the next level by using NFC chips in products rather than barcodes? This would make the process less fiddly (one need only put the reader and the item close together, rather than hunt around for a barcode to scan). The shopper would then use a bespoke handheld device provided by the supermarket, or an app on their phone, to scan in the items.

With that being the case, let’s say you’ve just scanned an item. At that moment, your own personal chef pops up and says, ‘Hey, the ingredients you’ve just bought would make a great curry if you added some lemongrass, and guess what? It’s in the next aisle over!’ Using a phone app, or being able to login to a bespoke device, presents an opportunity for the software to learn your tastes, and then introduce you to other things you may like, similar to how music, book, and other media recommendation algorithms work today.

So you’ve read those ideas and you’re thinking, ‘Why on Earth would they do any of that?’ For me, there are two reasons.

The first reason is to encourage discovery. Supermarkets often reconfigure their shelves to force shoppers to spend more time exploring the store, and to re-examine the inventory. With this in mind, imagine that, on the bottom of the payment receipt, the shopper is informed that had they bought a different kind of pasta sauce, they would have achieved the Perfect Pasta combo, and have thusly received an extra 50 points on their loyalty card. The shopper wants those points, so they make sure to buy the alternative sauce next time. Turns out they prefer the taste of it, and what do you know, the markup is a little higher. How about that?

I suspect some of my readership may be laughing at this point. But games are a big business, they’re a good way to motivate people, and the nice thing about this approach is that anyone who doesn’t care can just ignore it, in the same way that many shoppers already ignore the ’10 extra points when you buy Product X’ coupons that already exist, whereas others painstakingly scan several of these coupons as they go through the checkout, eager to gain every extra loyalty point they can.

Anyone who does want to play the checkout bonus points game can be directed to a section of the supermarket website, where details of the various combos could be found. Perhaps some would only be hinted at, leaving the shopper to figure out the clues. The possibilities for introducing shoppers to new products here are endless! OK, maybe not endless. But they’re at least several.

In a similar fashion, extra points for certain items could encourage healthy eating. This may be something that’s detrimental to the business, but there may yet be a means of turning that into a positive. However, rewarding people for buying healthy items would be a positive step to tackling public health. It’s true that people could game the system, scanning their loyalty card only when they buy healthy things, but most people would not go to that level of trouble, even if they spotted the workaround.

Who says you can’t have fun at the supermarket?

Part one of my UX exploration of supermarkets can be found here.