NEW TECHNOLOGY CAN SOLVE STORE ILLS: IBM EXEC

CHICAGO -- Retailers can use current technology to address the "pain points" associated with the consumer and employee experience, urged an IBM executive and former store manager at the recent Private Label Manufacturers Association show here.Speaking on "Tomorrow's High-Tech Supermarket," Ralph Jacobson, executive marketing manager, retail industry, IBM, who worked at Jewel for 17 years, said that

CHICAGO -- Retailers can use current technology to address the "pain points" associated with the consumer and employee experience, urged an IBM executive and former store manager at the recent Private Label Manufacturers Association show here.

Speaking on "Tomorrow's High-Tech Supermarket," Ralph Jacobson, executive marketing manager, retail industry, IBM, who worked at Jewel for 17 years, said that many of the technology tools that could be used to help shoppers and employees exist today.

But, he warned, "just slamming in new technology is not necessarily going to correct the problems," adding that retailers first need to "bring business processes at all levels -- store operations, supply chain, merchandising, marketing, financials -- to industry best practices."

Still, in his talk at PLMA's 2003 "Store Brands Confidential" Private Label Trade Show, Jacobson touted the potential of new technology. In particular, he highlighted systems being tested by Metro Group at the Future Store, a remodeled Extra supermarket in Rheinberg, Germany.

Those systems include intelligent scales, personal shopping assistants, self-scanning, advanced kiosks, as well as RFID (radio frequency identification)-based technology developed by the Auto-ID Center at MIT. He said IBM is working with retailers in the U.S. who are thinking of developing a comparable store in this country.

Jacobson, who is based in Santa Claritas, Calif., also alluded to other technology applications not yet in action at the Future Store. For example, he said IBM is working with a few retailers to test biometric signature capture, which captures not just the look of a signature but also its "cadence, speed and pressure as you're signing it so it can't be forged by another person," he said.

Other tests of biometrics at the point-of-sale involve asking shoppers to leave on record a fingerprint, which is subsequently used as an identification marker via an electronic reader at the checkout. But, noted Jacobson, "I don't know how comfortable I'd be giving my fingerprint."

As a way of turning shoppers from "browsers into buyers," Jacobson suggested borrowing a technique from consumer electronics retailers who offer detailed product information He said food retailers could provide expert advice on how to prepare a delicious seafood dinner, using the store as the information source.

He also observed that in-store promotional plasma screens are generating "double-digit sales lifts."