December 23, 2003
Grocery Googling

So last week, Tiffany asked her mother, who is hosting both Christmas Eve and Christmas, what food we should bring. She expected to hear something like "oh, bring a vegetable", but instead was handed two recipes and a shopping list. As she is management and I am labor in our household org chart, I was tasked with buying the needed groceries.

So off to Kroger I went. I'm actually not a clueless grocery shopper, and found everything specified in more or less short order, but I did almost get hung up on two items: clam juice and chives.

Clam juice? Where's that? I looked up at the signs over the aisles and figured it'd either be in with fruit and vegetable juices, or with spices and condiments. Turns out it was in neither one - I found it near cooking oils, though I've forgotten what the highlighted items on that aisle were. Thankfully, this was between the two aisles that I've fingered, and was near the end, so I spotted it as I was walking by.

As for the chives, I couldn't remember if "chive" is a synonym for "green onion" or not. I didn't see anything labelled "chives" in the produce displays, but after a quick consultation with one of the store employees, who looked it up in his magic book, we eventually located them among the prepackaged items.

Somewhere between the chives and the clam juice it occurred to me that my errand would have been greatly simplified if my neighborhood Kroger had a kiosk near the entrance where I could do a query on "clam juice" and be told "aisle seven, rear, top shelf". Navigating these huge upscale grocery stores is enough of a challenge when you're just there to buy the usual stuff, but when you've got a specialty item on your list it can be pretty daunting. There are other self-service technologies now - unattended cashier lines where you scan your own groceries, weigh stations for produce where you input a product number and get a barcode sticker for faster checkout - why not something like this? I know I'd use it.

Yes, this would be a large investment for a not-easily-quantified gain, but surely a smart upscale food store would advertise their new feature for a competitive advantage. It might also help them with demand - if you allow queries based on brand names, you could keep track of those that are made for brands you don't carry and stock accordingly. Hell, a really smart chain might let their suppliers subsidize some of the cost in return for specialized queries, advertising displays, an option to print coupons, whatever.

I'm sure there are many possibilities. All I know is that I found myself wishing that I could have Googled on "clam juice", and this is where it took me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2003 to Food, glorious food | TrackBack

I hate self-service checkout.
A: no paper bags, which we re-use and recycle
B: big pain in the ass, transferring the labor done by the store in the regular lines to me, with no benefit to me in terms of cost or time savings.

I wonder if a 'foodfinder' kiosk would do well for the store or not. After all, many shoppers make impulse purchases and if it's easy to find 'clam sweat', then you might not see the Red and Green Kwanaa Oreo cookies on the end-cap...

Posted by: Michael Croft on December 23, 2003 12:02 PM

Where I would get confused is with clam juice versus clam sauce, which should be found with the pasta sauces.

I always thought that chives were prepared with green onions and mayonnaise, however, if there are already prepared packages, then all the better. It beats having to mash everything together.

Posted by: William hughes on December 23, 2003 12:46 PM

I like the self-service checkout for when I have a small number of items and the store is crowded. The lack of paper bags is not a failing of the technology.

Your hypothesis about fewer impulse purchases is interesting. It wouldn't work on me - I have a list, and I'm going to get what's on that list - but I wouldn't claim to be typical here.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2003 1:53 PM

The technology exists to do that, too. Been in a Borders recently? They have the upright keyboard and screen kiosks all over the store out here.

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 23, 2003 2:19 PM

Yeah, that's the sort of thing I had in mind. It shouldn't even be all that expensive to do this, at least not as expensive as it would have been a few years ago.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2003 2:58 PM

I hope this takes -- I can't figure out how to make an at-symbol on this keyboard. OK, you need an e-mail address, but I figured it out (Alt Car-2)

Clam juice was probably with sardines, tinned clams, anchovies and the like. That's where I find it, anyway. Chives are easy -- they are produce after all.

And I always use self-service checkouts. First, the boys like to scan stuff (it beeps!) But that is less relevant since our grocery store has a children's play area anyway. I can also presort the groceries, making the process of putting them away at home quicker. And I can make sure that heavy stuff is at the bottom of bags and light stuff at the top -- which seems to be a lost art among supermarket baggers now.

However, Giant Eagle has a much better system than HEB did. Instead of weight-checking stuff, it goes through a portal and gets dimensionally scanned. This works a whole lot better, and I rarely have a problem that requires employee intervention.

But I recently read about a store in the Northeast that is testing smart carts that know where stuff is (although you do have to push them there, but they tell you how to go). They also know you and your regular shopping list, and will prompt you if you forget something. And, I think, they bill you as you put stuff in the cart, so you can bypass the checkout. It was in the Post-Gazette, but I can't find a good search time right now.

Posted by: David on December 28, 2003 2:09 PM