Food Lion Checking Out With Wi-Fi

With most retail grocery chains hemorrhaging revenue to supercenters, most notably the ubiquitous Wal-Mart, Food Lion has launched a new concept store designed to increase the consumers’ “shopping experience” through the use of wireless technology.

Dubbed “Bloom, A Food Lion Market,” the project plans to open a total of five pilot stores by the end of 2004 in the Charlotte, N.C. area, each equipped with a portable shopping system by Symbol Technologies, Agilysys and various Microsoft technologies.

Some of the offerings in the concept stores include multiple self-checkout options and product location and information kiosks. Highlights on the store operations side include a store manager workbench and other applications available on a Tablet PC and via a wireless, broadband network.

“Bloom will provide a unique shopping experience,” said Jeff Lowrance, a spokesman for the chain. “If customer feedback is positive, we will then develop a strategy for growing the Bloom brand, while looking [at] how to integrate the technology into some of our more than 1,200 Food Lion operations.”

At Bloom, the Symbol handheld computers with integrated bar code scanners reside in a central kiosk at the entrance to each store. To obtain a Personal Scanner, customers scan a store-provided bar code, which unlocks one of the scanners for use.

Shoppers then move through the store, scanning and bagging their purchases as they go. As shoppers scan their groceries, the handheld records the purchases and keeps a running total of the dollars spent during the shopping trip.

“Retail super-market chains today are seeking strategies to compete with the supercenters,” said Frank Riso, Symbol’s director of retail vertical marketing. “But they are finding they don’t only need to compete of price. Increasingly, advantages can be gained in enhancing the shopping experience,” he added.

“Whereas success used to be calculated in sales per square foot, today it is being measured in your ability to convert shoppers into customers and increase per-shopper purchasing.”

Food Lion is banking that by implementing the hand-held technology, customers will spend more because it is not only more convenient, but because they also receive marketing offers before the point of purchase.

During the checkout process, shoppers have two options: They can either use a cashier checkout lane or self-checkout lane. For self-check out, customers scan an “end of trip” bar code located on their shopping cart. The entire order is then downloaded to the register. Customers are not burdened with unloading the shopping cart, bagging items and then reloading the shopping cart.

The Symbol PSS also allows Bloom to electronically send messages to customers while they shop. At the Bloom store in Charlotte, shoppers who drop off pharmacy orders can continue shopping and receive a message on their Personal Scanner that lets them know the order is ready for pick-up, with no waiting in line.

Riso equates the fledgling technology to the bar code scanning system introduced in the 1970s, which quickly became the industry standard. Looking ahead, adoption and application of the latest scan technology could be spurred when shoppers are able to use their own wireless devices with the service. Riso predicts that could happen within five to 10 years, perhaps even sooner.

The project comes at a time when Food Lion, which prides itself on extra low prices, is looking for ways to compete with low-cost competitors.

“Wal-Mart is just draining revenue from the major grocery chains, forcing them to sit back and re-examine the way they do business,” said Chuck Gilmer, editor of Shelby Report, a regional grocery industry trade publication that tracks Food Lion.

“For several of these international chains, the rallying cry is to find your niche. The launch of Bloom seems to be a strategy at Food Lion to carve out a new niche.”

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