Smart-cartvertising the next gold rush for advertisers?

Now in beta testing for major US marketers, these RFID-powered babies do everything but sign shoppers' credit cards.

MediaCart, of Batavia, Ohio, says it’s cracked the technical stumbling blocks that so far have prevented shopping cart-mounted video screens from reaching their full potential as a boffo ad medium. And the carts’ RFID system can also be used to measure the effectiveness of all in-store advertising.

Among the mega marketers investigating these claims are Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo, all of which are currently running ads in MediaCart’s test store in Plano, Texas. A pilot program is underway in supermarkets in the northeast US, and a national rollout down south is skedded by year end.

Sounds like the enthusiasm may be well placed because these high-tech contraptions can pull off more than a few types of magic. The MediaCart is hailed as an RFID marketing app innovator in that each cart has a electronic reader that tracks info from chips embedded in shelf price labels. The cart tech can both monitor shopper bahaviour, and influence it, via on-screen ads that pop up as shoppers pass by designated products.

To help shoppers find what they’re looking for, the smart-carts have both voice-recognition technology and a system that gives directions when shoppers type in two or three letters of an item’s name. And, for tricky questions, they have mobile phone capability to connect users with customer service help.

When consumers complete their shopping, the carts have a self-scanning feature to speed checkouts. But if shoppers are stuck in a checkout lane with bored kids, the carts can play clips of Disney DVDs that not only entertain but drive impulse purchases.

As appealing as all that may be to consumers, marketers will probably be equally pleased by the MediaCart’s other attributes – and not just because the prices that show up on screen can be easily updated. Among the cart’s built-in tools are scanners that measure in real time, at point of purchase, the sales impact of not just cart ads but also other in-store media. As well, MediaCarts can track and analyze how many shoppers stay in the presence of each in-store ad and for how long.