LAKELAND, Fla. - Publix Super Markets is concluding a test of a shopping cart designed to carry and entertain young children during the shopping trip.
Called the TV Kart, the entire shopping cart is in the shape of a toy car that can hold two children under age 6. In addition to a "steering wheel" and a few other interactive knobs, it features an LCD screen that plays up to two hours of children's video fare such as Wiggles, Barney and Bob the Builder. Grocery items are placed in racks on top of the cart.
Publix began testing the cart in mid-July at five stores in the metro Atlanta area, and was expected to conclude the test last month, according to Brenda Reid, media and community relations manager for the Atlanta Division of Publix. Though Publix considers TV Kart to be a "popular program," the chain has not yet committed to a further rollout, she said.
At its five test stores, Publix offered three TV Karts per store (other chains offer from two to 10 carts per store). To use the cart, shoppers paid $1, part of which Publix kept as a commission. Reid declined to disclose the commission percentage. Publix itself does not pay a fee for the carts.
"Our customers enjoy the option of using the carts," Reid said. "They have been very well received by parents and children. If there is no TV Kart available, some parents will wait until one opens up. Some children do not want to get out when it's time to go." She declined to say how many shopping trips per day were made with the TV Kart.
Asked about TV Kart, one retail consultant had a mixed reaction in an email response. "Will this kind of thing become so natural and expected that it merely ups costs for everybody? Or is this a new arena where retailers can achieve differentiation and enhance connectedness [with customers]?" observed Janet Murphy, president, Ogden Associates, Morristown, N.J.
TV Kart is marketed by Cabco Group, Auckland, New Zealand, which has U.S. offices in Chicago and Dallas. Started in 1998, Cabco introduced TV Kart in the U.S. in 2003 and now provides carts to "several hundred U.S. stores," said Doug Bartlett, one of Cabco's founders and its U.S. business development director. Cabco's first product, called Kid Kart, which plays only audio (songs and stories), is also in some U.S. stores.
Other food retailers that offer TV Kart in varying numbers of stores include Wal-Mart Stores, Safeway, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Meijer and Kroger, which is the latest chain to test the cart, according to Bartlett.
Retailers in New Zealand and Australia also offer the cart and Cabco said it plans to market it in Europe over the next two years. "We're adding 15 to 20 carts per month" at retailers in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand," he said.
Bartlett said shoppers who use TV Kart spend an extra nine minutes in the store and spend on average an additional 72 cents per minute. Reid would not release Publix's sales figures associated with TV Kart. Carts average six to seven hours of usage per day, Bartlett said.
Cabco is responsible for the upkeep of the carts and the equipment associated with the carts, such as a recharging mechanism. Cabco can also remotely monitor the performance of the carts. "The carts are in good working condition," Reid said.
Currently, each cart plays a different video character, but Cabco plans to release a cart that combines all videos in one and allows parents to select which video their children watch. Programs are updated every few months.
Bartlett said that kids watch the video programming primarily when the cart is stationary. "When they move, the kids like 'steering' the cars," he said, adding that children can also trigger sounds and lights via knobs and buttons.