For Immediate Release
In a field test of a prototype PDA system developed by Georgia Institute
of Technology researchers, shoppers reported that the device made shopping
easier and more efficient. Shoppers tended to avoid impulse buys and also
found items in the store more quickly. On the downside, shoppers did not
like holding the PDA while shopping, and many suggested a docking station
on the shopping cart -- an idea explored, but not tested in this study.
"It's still an unanswered question as to whether the PDA is the
right device for use in grocery stores," said Georgia Tech Associate
Professor of Computing John
Stasko, who supervised the project. "Our study clearly showed
some potential. But the devil is in the details."
Stasko's former students Erica Newcomb and Toni Pashley, who graduated with master's degrees last year, will present the details in a paper presentation titled "Mobile Computing in the Retail Arena" on April 9 at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) 2003 meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The study, funded in part by NCR, involved extensive background research
-- including observation of and interviews with shoppers and a shopping
survey -- before designing and testing a prototype in a Kroger store in
From their research, Pashley and Newcomb created a scenario that could
be implemented now and offers many of the features shoppers want. In the
scenario, the local grocery store contains an always-on information system.
The shopper, who is a member of the local grocery store's frequent shoppers
club, is immediately recognized upon entering the store. The shopper either
brings a PDA-stored list from home or receives one from the store based
on their previous purchases.
Once the shopper enters the store, the list is reordered to provide the
most efficient route to obtain every item on the list. Shoppers check
off items as they acquire them, review and add specials to the list, view
and save recipes and watch for in-store specials.
Upon checkout, the shopper scans the grocery items, and the system compares
the original list with items that have been scanned. An updated "scanned"
list is beamed to the PDA, allowing the shopper to verify the total of
the grocery bill. When satisfied with the purchases, the shopper can beam
the verified list along with payment information to the checkout. A receipt
is beamed back to the PDA for the shopper to later reconcile with a checking
The researchers used features from the idealized scenario to build a
prototype software system that put the grocery list in the center of the
PDA screen and devoted the top of the screen to a store layout. The revolving
promotional area was placed at the bottom of the screen. The prototype
was built using Macromedia Flash for Microsoft Pocket PC Version 3.0.1.
The handheld was a Compaq IPAQ with a color display.
Five users tested the prototype in a Kroger store in Atlanta. Researchers
Pashley and Newcomb gave them a series of tasks -- for example, find milk,
eggs and bread -- requiring use of various system features, and then observed
and audiotaped the users as they shopped with the PDA. Afterwards, they
"It was generally well received," Stasko said. Participants
appreciated the system's ability to identify the location of items in
the store, which was probably the most-used feature of the interface,
Pashley and Newcomb reported.
Participants commented on how quickly they shopped, how focused they
were on the shopping list and how they did not feel like they browsed
while shopping. One participant said he is usually "all over the
store." The PDA interface helped him "move orderly through the
store," and that, with the list on the application, he did not "even
want to look around." He "just wanted to go grab the item on
The researchers noted, "While this might not be good news for the
grocery stores, quick and efficient shopping was stated as one of the
most desired grocery shopping traits in the survey we conducted."
Meanwhile, participants in the study also commented on the difficulty
of holding the PDA while using their hands to shop. Following the Kroger
experiment, Pashley and Newcomb designed a PDA system that was mounted
on a shopping cart. That design was created as a class assignment, though,
and was not tested in this study.
Despite this drawback, two participants called after the field test to
ask when they could buy the system. "But this system was very much
a prototype," Stasko explained. "It's nowhere near a production-quality
For now, no further studies are planned for the system, but Stasko is
hopeful some of his other students will continue the research. Issues
to explore include "whether users would use their own PDAs and if
so, how it would integrate with the grocery store's software system,"
Stasko said. "In another model, the store gives shoppers a PDA to
use while shopping, but then there's the concern about theft. And there
are also serious privacy concerns, particularly related to the frequent
Researchers believe their prototype might be tweaked for use in other
retail domains, including discount department and home improvement stores.
Because shoppers are usually less familiar with these types of stores,
the task of finding items would become paramount for the PDA application,
Several other shopping aids have been researched elsewhere. They include Easi-Order, a PDA application for creating a shopping list at home and then sending it to the store. It was launched in Safeway stores in the United Kingdom. Klever-Kart is an on-cart device that offers users information on sales, nutrition, news and weather. And Shoppers Eye is a research concept that has mall shoppers carrying a wireless PDA to share their list with stores that make bids for the user's business.
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WRITER: Jane Sanders