INTERACTIVE SHOPPING FUTURE OUTLINED

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- A cable television executive suggested that grocery shopping via interactive TV could become a widespread and attractive alternative for store-weary consumers.Consequently, Geraldine Laybourne, president of Nickelodeon, recommended that brand marketers and retailers get involved now."If I were a retailer, I would definitely get into this. If I were a grocery manufacturer,

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- A cable television executive suggested that grocery shopping via interactive TV could become a widespread and attractive alternative for store-weary consumers.

Consequently, Geraldine Laybourne, president of Nickelodeon, recommended that brand marketers and retailers get involved now.

"If I were a retailer, I would definitely get into this. If I were a grocery manufacturer, I would get into this. Otherwise, you'll be in the same situation you are in right now with endless negotiations for shelf space," said Laybourne, who also is vice chairman of MTV Networks, a Viacom division.

She spoke here at the Executive Conference of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. Her comments on interactive grocery shopping were part of a general talk on consumers and the information superhighway.

Laybourne pointed out that interactive grocery shopping is already being tested in Florida. Time Warner Cable offers supermarket and pharmacy shopping on its Full Service Network in Orlando. The system uses technology provided by ShopperVision, a retail space-management company in Norcross, Ga. Orders are filled by Winn-Dixie Stores of Jacksonville, Fla.

In the test, 4,000 subscribers can examine packages on their television sets and then place orders. The system offers images of supermarket gondolas, as well as package close-ups.

Laybourne acknowledged that some people enjoy the in-store shopping experience.

"I think that retail fulfills an important role in our lives," she said. "But the parts of retail that are not enjoyable are the ones most apt to be appealing to interactive."

She envisioned getting groceries on a subscription service.

"I would get all my products on a monthly basis," she said, "and they would be automatically sent to my home." Specific items could be added or de-listed from the master list. "If I could do that minimal amount of work, it would be great," she said.

While interactive grocery shopping is exciting and appealing in many ways, Laybourne said making it a reality is still challenging.

"History tells us that unless an innovation is 10 times better, the old forces protecting the vested interests will make it impossible for the innovation to go through," she said.