grocery shopping cart

Grocery shopping has always felt – to me at least – like the third or fourth circle of Dante’s infamous hell. When I can’t avoid it, I suffer through random carts parked in the middle of too-narrow aisles, dirty looks and muttered curses from the temporary owners of those same carts, and at the end of an obstacle course riddled by obnoxious and theoretically hungry shoppers, I get to stand in a very long line. Grocery shopping is torture.

Worse is when I need some special ingredient that I don’t usually buy, and therefore can’t easily find. Going against the tide in a supermarket to get back to an aisle on the other side of the store just makes everything worse. And yet, it’s possible this experience is about to improve.

A lighting company has figured out a way to get the lighting in stores to talk to your smartphone without impacting your own perception of the lighting. (Read about it here). The technology, called Visible Light Communication, sounds weird and very sci-fi, but apparently it will make it possible for your smartphone to tell you where that odd ingredient is. And to guide you to the right aisle. Unlike GPS, it can pinpoint your position to within 8-12 inches.

This has some interesting implications.

If you ask where the mustard is located, will you get a coupon for the brand that paid for that privilege? If you pause briefly in the crackers aisle, will you be tempted with an ad for a crackers brand near your left shoulder, or will the potato chip aisle jump in and tempt you to mosey on over in that direction? Will the cracker aisle and the potato chip aisle go to war over your shopping cart? When does the soft drink aisle jump in? Are the frozen veggies in it to win it, or will they be left out in the cold?

Extend this even further, and it is suddenly possible for brands to get data on whether shoppers are pausing for their products or their competitors’. Brands will suddenly be able to target individual shoppers in a true 1:1 fashion as they circumvent the disconnect and get a clearer picture of the path to purchase. That opportunity could lead to true omni-channel marketing. As a shopper, I can get directions plus ads in store, emails in my inbox, targeted ads on TV, and display ads on websites as I roam the internet. Budget permitting, there is no end to the possibilities for a brand to drive me to their products.

Still, I have high hopes for a technology that can possibly do a better job letting me know where to find my latest snack food craving than the store clerks. This new lighting technology might not be able to stop the dirty looks from other shoppers, but one can always hope that they’re too busy staring at their own mobile phones to bother you.

Now if we could just get them to move their carts to the side before they’re distracted by their phones.