Not buying Microsoft's MediaCart

There's something about being asked to push a rolling billboard up and down the grocery aisle that brings out the techno-rage in people

The MediaCart consoles coming to a grocery carts in the US courtesy of Microsoft had better be sturdy and firmly attached or they are all but certain to suffer the same fate as that stomped-upon copier in "Office Space."

There's just something about being asked to push a rolling billboard up and down the grocery aisle that brings out the techno-rage in people.

Or is it just me?

According to an Associated Press story, Microsoft and its US$6 billion acquisition aQuantive are just about set to test the limits of public patience for ever-more-omnipresent advertising: "Starting in the second half of 2008, the companies plan to test MediaCart in Wakefern Food's ShopRite supermarkets on the East Coast. Customers with a ShopRite loyalty card will be able to log in to a Web site at home and type in their grocery lists; when they get to the store and swipe their card on the MediaCart console, the list will appear. As shoppers scan their items and place them in their cart, the console gives a running price tally and checks items off the shopping list."

Through the use of RFID, the system will be able to determine a cart's position within the store so that it can dish up ads for specific items, just what parents with kids in tow will want to help them withstand all the begging and pleading for this or that box of sugar.

So what else is there not to like about MediaCart besides the prospect of being subjected to cookie commercials in aisle three?

Let's start with the first step of the process, entering my grocery list on a Web site. Who's going to want to take the time to do this unless it would result in having the goods arrive on their doorstep as with Peapod?

Today I assemble my grocery list -- yes, I do the shopping -- using two pieces of time-tested technology: a pencil and a piece of paper. The combination has never let me down, and, best of all, the piece of paper attaches to my refrigerator door with a small magnet (another underrated invention) so that I can access and update it throughout the week without the help of my computer or the Internet.

Call me a curmudgeonly Luddite; you won't be the first.

Moreover, what we're really talking about here with MediaCart is having a pushy salesperson perched across from the seat in which your squirming toddler sits. "Hey, look, 50 cents off Oreos ... Two-for-one on Skippy ... Are you really going to serve that rice with that fish?"

No, thanks.

To be fair, there could be an upside to MediaCart as it would seem to reduce the chances of pricey impulse buying, especially at the checkout line MediaCart is supposedly going to let shoppers bypass (I'm waiting to see how they solve the weighing and produce issues). The grocery industry has learned of this trade-off already since the proliferation of self-checkout aisles got under way, according to studies that show fewer Slim Jims and TV Guides being bought by do-it-yourselfers.

Of course, there's always the chance that ShopRite shoppers will decide that MediaCart is the wrong way to shop. We can only hope.

But I do know this much for certain: The advertising industry will not stop until it literally invades our dreams ... and grocers won't believe shoppers are doing enough of the work until we're actually stocking shelves.

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Paul McNamara

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