The trout at the fresh fish counter looks good, but you're tired of having it amandine. So you call on the Cuisine Machine.
You touch the scroll-ahead button on the computer screen until "trout" appears. You push "recipe" among the list of preparation and information choices and six selections appear. You choose the trout with crab and bearnaise sauce, push "print recipe" and it edges its way out of a slot above the computer screen.
If you thought check-out scanners were high tech, be prepared. We're on the cutting edge of an era of electronic marketing in supermarkets that makes the Jetsons look contemporary.
Performing any number of activities, from helping you choose a wire to helping you find the waxed paper, these computers aid, influence or control purchasing decisions in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
The disappearance of "Harriet Housewife," according to Peter Francese, president of American Demographics, Inc., has led to an increasing diversity of food shoppers, among them, men, teen-agers, working women, the elderly and singles. As a result, retailers and advertisers must reach a vastly more segmented market -- and one way to do that effectively is to reach them where they shop, according to Francese.
Couple that with the busy schedules of these diverse consumers (less time to do shopping in larger stores) and the tendency toward impulse buying, and the impetus behind electronic marketing and advertising begins to take shape.
Retailers, manufacturers and computer companies view these new computers as a benefit to all parties involved. And Mona Doyle, president of Consumer Network, a Philadelphia-based consumer research organization that conducts monthly shopper surveys, said that while some consumers do not trust computers, in general, her surveys have shown positive consumer feedback. In addition, Doyle said that in this age of information, consumers view in-store advertising as an appropriate and helpful tool.
Nevertheless, there is a fine line between information and advertising, and consumers wooed by technology should be aware of the motivations behind these microchips. Consider the following examples of computer services that have been or are being used in supermarkets around the country, either on an experimental or limited basis: Recipe Terminals You're serving six for dinner with the trout-and-crab dish. The Cuisine Machine, made by Inter-Ad Inc., can change the proportions of the recipe before printing it out, and will also list the complete nutritional breakdown. Presently, Cuisine Machine contains 250 recipes, but has the capability of storing up to 1,000, according to sales manager Jeff Dowell, who said that the recipes were developed for the company by the Rochester Institute of Technology.
"Retailers can spur impulse sales by promoting high-margin perishables, as well as related items in the recipe, by using the Inter-Touch Cuisine Machine," reads the press release from Inter-Ad, Inc. (That trout recipe requires a pound of crab meat and tarragon vinegar, for example.)
In addition, although it is not yet programmed to do so, Cuisine Machine fcan feature specific brand names in a recipe. Dowell said that the company has been approached by some manufacturers to do so, but has not yet made any committments.For instance, a recipe for Crab Louis could list Hellman's Mayonnaise as an ingredient. CPC International, the corporation that owns Hellman's, would be paying Inter-Ad, Inc. for that insertion, just as it would for an advertisement. (The retailer would have no say in this inclusion, nor would the consumer be informed of the arrangement.)
While any mayonnaise may do, it is hoped that "common sense" would tell the consumer that Hellman's is not mandatory, Dowell said. But, added Dowell, there's "not a waking moment that we're not hit by advertising somewhere, some way."
Similar to the Cuisine Machine is the computer prtgram called Menu Master developed on an Apple 2 computer by Art Seessel, owner of Seessel's supermarkets in Memphis, after the chain introduced full-service seafood and meat counters. "We weren't sure the younger generation knew how to cook a rack of lamb," said Seessel.
Another computer called The Wine Steward, developed by a Fremont, Calif., company, works on the promise that consumers are intimidated and confused by the large array of wine selections in the supermarket. For $3,000, it costs the store a lot less than employing a full-time wine expert.
If you're having a szechuan chicken dish for dinner, for instance, but don't quite know which wine to serve, the Wine Steward will give you three suggestions in each of three price categories (bargain, popular and premium priced.)
The wines are chosen from the store's inventory, the specific selections determined by the seven staffers of the Wine Steward company, all of whom have worked in the wine and/or food industries.
While the promotional material geared to supermarketers reads that the Wine Steward "will push the wines you want emphasized," owner Peter Wolf said that the company "will never compromise the integrity that the food and wine pairings are good and solid." Wolf added that in the seven states that have Wine Steward installations, no stores have requested that the company program the computer to push a particular wine. Wolf said his clients have told him, "You have our inventory, you make the best selection." Electronic Store Directories
You dash into the store to grab an extra box of toothpicks for your cocktail party. Where are they?
Using the supermarket's touch-screen electronic store directory, you push T and locate toothpicks among the items. A female voice says that toothpicks are in aisle five. Then, an "X" flashes on the screen to show you where you are, and a dotted line appears tracing the route to the toothpicks.
Marketers say that the growth of the superstore and the influx of new shoppers on the scene has created a situation where consumers don't know were to find items, even the most common ones.
According to Dowell of Inter-Ad, Inc., which also sella a store directory computer, a recent study showed that 47 percent of patrons who walk into supermarkets don't know where the items on their shopping lists are located. Dowell said that Inter-Ad, Inc. has found that the items that patrons ask for the most in the company's Intertouch Shopper II computer are cereal, beer, lemonade mix, Jell-O, ice cream, peanut butter, rice, popcorn and soups.
Ads are flashed onto the screen for one second while Shopper II is in use; in addition, the computer has the ability to cross reference items. For instance, after you find out where the pasta is located, the computer might indicate that the parmesan cheese is located in aisle 10, and the italian bread is in aisle 12.
While at least some supermarkets find these systems successful, Giant supermarket tested Inter-Ad's electronic store directories in five stores this year and found that the cost wasn't worth it, according to Odonna Mathews, vice president of consumer affairs. Instead, Giant decided that detailed store directories on shopping carts were more feasible and practical, and so it instituting them in all stores, Mathews said. Coupon Dispensing Terminals
Forgot the coupons you clipped out of the paper? Too lazy to find the scissors? A computerized coupon-dispensing terminal located right in the supermarket will spit out of the coupons you desire. And all you have to do is touch the screen.
Safeway is experimenting with Coupon Systems, Inc.'s machines in its stores in San Francisco and Washington state, and the surveys show "a strong interest" and an increase in redemptions, according to Felicia del Compo, spokesperson for Safeway's corporate headquarters in Oakland. In fact, Ernie Moore, spokesperson for the chain's local division, said that a few Safeways in the metropolitan area may be testing such machines late this year. (Some electronic coupon-dispensing companies have been unsuccessful, however, and have already gone out of business.)
Yet other companies are experimenting with incorporating additional capabilities into their coupon-dispensing computers. For instance, Interstate Technologies, Inc.'s Smart Start system can be programmed with demographic information to target specific coupons.
Smart Start is actually a check approval system. But if you wish to fill out a demographic survey, the data is then entered into the computer's memory. Then, if the computer knows that you own a dog, it may print out a coupon for Alpo after it approves your check.
Coupon Solution, the name of the computer developed by Catalina Marketing in Los Angeles and Chicago, takes coupon target marketing a step further. Coupon Solution can perform a whole range of schemes, from cross merchandising to competitive marketing, by tying into the check-stand scanner.
For instance, after the scanner records the Universal Product Code (UPC) on your baby food, you might receive a coupon for baby lotion. Or, if you have purchased Gerber peaches, you might get a coupon for Heinz's version. Or, if you have purchase $30 worth of groceries, but not items from the deli department, the Coupon Solution might dispense a cents-off coupon for potato salad, for instance.
The coupons also contain bar codes, so that when the shopper redeems them on a follow-up visit, the computer can check to ensure that the coupon matches the item the shopper has purchased. In addition, according to George Off, vice president of operations for Catalina, manufacturers can find out all kinds of marketing information, such as their redemption rates against other manufacturers. Off said that the Coupon Solution is averaging a redemption rate for between 9 and 12 percent. (The average national redemption rate for coupons is about 4 percent, according to the Food Marketing Institute.) Video Advertising
Marketing Technologies, Inc.'s video advertiser in Winn-Dixie's Dallas-Fort Worth stores flashed colorful graphics promoting various brand name products onto a screen. Unlike the other systems, it is not a store directory, nor does it dispense coupons. (It can, however, flash public service announcements such as the winner of the local Little League game, your horoscope or the date and location of an area church bazzar.)
The manufacturer pays Marketing Technologies Group, Inc. $13.50 per store per week for a 15-second advertisement that repeats itself every three to seven minutes. Stan Roban, co-owner of the 1 1/2-year-old Long Island firm, said that companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Georgia Pacific and Coca-Cola are using the video advertisers.
Roban says the company guarantees product exclusivity. In other words, if Coke is advertising during that week, then Pepsi can't, nor can the store advertise its house brand cola.
Roban says he likes to call it "point-of-purchase advertising," that the video advertisements function as the "last bastion" before the final purchase. The system is also good in stimulating impulse sales among people who don't make choices easily, Roban addes.
Marketing Technologies Group, Inc. also sells a video advertiser for use at the check stands, although these systems promote such items as book clubs and other direct mail marketers. While waiting on line, patrons view a monitor that may flash the latest promotion for the Dinsey Book Club, for instance. Order forms are available at the store. Customer Survey Terminals
Using this type of computer, you get to beef to or compliment a store without being put on hold.
Fleming Foods, one of the country's largest wholesalers to supermarket chains, has a system available to its client supermarkets that is simply a computerized version of a survey card. Via a touch-screen computer, shoppers are asked about a dozen questions, ranging from overall store performance to pricing, cleanliness and ratings of individual departments.
Fleming then gives the store a complete report on the results and makes recommendations for areas of improvements. Nutrition Education
A test program funded by the National Cancer Institute and developed by a Rockville health and information services, firm, Capital Systems Group, was instituted in Farm Fresh supermarkets in Richmond this past February and March.
According to Denise O'Malley, health educator for the company, consumers would walk up to Nutri-Touch's screen and receive basic nutrition information about lowfat and high-fiber foods. Bright colors and bursting graphics helped convey the messages, and O'Malley, who added that a store directory component of the computer would show consumers where particular high-fiber or lowfat foods were located. Electronic Test Marketing
To get a more accurate reading on consumer buying behavior, companies such as the Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. have been using a technique in a handful of test markets that some may view as having Big Brother overtones.
BehaviorScan, as Information Resources Inc.'s system is called, works like this: You volunteer as a participant and are given a computerized shopping card that records your purchases each time you shop. Companies such as Campbell Soup, Procter & Gamble Co., Dart & Kraft and General Corp. then buy adverstisements that cut into ad programming as you watch specially monitored cable television.
But the ads are targeted according to your particular purchasing habits. For example, since the the computer knows that you usually buy Tropicana orange juice, it may signal a cut-in with an advertisement from Sunkit. Or, if you own a microwave oven, maybe you will receive more ads for microwave products. Or, perhaps you will view an ad for Shake 'n Bake while your neighbor views a different one for the same product.
You don't know which ads are part of regular programming, and which are part of the BehaviorScan program. Then you go to the store and continue on your regular shopping routine, and the companies continue to receive information on what you purchase. That way, the companies can judge your shopping behavior without your knowledge of the prodcuts they are tracking.
Would even the Jetsons be willing to put up with that?