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Stay Tuned

Supermarket marketing -- VideO-cart wants your attention while you shop for groceries

There's at least one way to make sure that viewers watch commercials — stick the screen right in their faces. So goes the thinking behind VideOcart — a laptop-size video screen that, attached to the handles of shopping carts, brings the fruit of Madison Avenue to your produce aisle. The concept is Big Brother meets Nintendo, and it may be coming soon to a supermarket near you.

Here's how it works. Say Sprite has bought time on VideOcart. As you approach the soda section in your stroll down the aisle, infrared sensors from the ceiling and shelves will trigger a 15-second Sprite ad on the screen attached to your cart. You can be hit by two ads per aisle — or as many as 30 during a shopping trip. Between ads you can call up other features like store maps and recipes-but the ads come on whether you want them or not; there's no off switch. This spring, VideOcart will appear in about 50 supermarkets nationwide; the manufacturer, VideOcart Inc. of Chicago, hopes to have the devices, which are provided free to supermarkets, in 400 stores by the end of the year and 5,000 by 1994.

Preliminary test results from three Schnucks stores in St. Louis show sales of VideOcart — advertised items up 30 to 60 percent. A Schnucks executive characterized the number of crashes from distracted cart drivers as ''really minor.'' Meanwhile, in a Ted Turner-supported joint venture with Actmedia called the Checkout Channel, real televisions with real programming and, of course, lots of commercials, have begun to pop up at some supermarket checkout counters.

And it gets wilder. Five thousand of the 15,000 TV-monitoring Nielsen families are waving electronic scanning ''wands'' over their groceries as they unbag them — so advertisers can match up consumers' buying behavior with the exact TV ads they've seen. If only Philip K. Dick had lived to shop this way.

Originally posted May 31, 1991 Published in issue #68 May 31, 1991 Order article reprints