The result is Mediacart, a shopping cart ad system that runs digital ads and promotions -- via high-resolution video screens without audio -- that will soon be tested in a major grocery retailer in the Northeast.
'A shopper perspective'
"We started from a shopper perspective, because if you don't provide a tool the shopper will want or demand, then you don't have a technology tool anyone will want," said Jon Kramer, chief marketing officer of the Frisco-based company and former CEO of J. Brown, an in-store marketing agency based in Stamford, Conn.
One of the company's findings: 87% of the 150 shoppers surveyed said they would choose a retailer equipped with Mediacart over one without the carts. The reason: "They enabled them to get out of the store more quickly," Mr. Kramer said, because an on-screen navigation tool allowed them to find the aisles where, say, anchovies, ketchup or razors were stocked.
Although Mediacart does not rely on item-level radio-frequency-identification tags, it does depend on RFID technology. Each video screen is embedded with an RFID chip that interacts with chips installed on store shelves about every two feet. Without it, there would be no way to create point-of-decision advertising -- so a shopper strolling in the soda aisle would get an offer for Pepsi, for example -- a capability that could radically upend conventional in-store marketing practices.
Beyond advertising, the system also promises to offer data insights long sought by consumer-product marketers. "This will give you second-by-second data on shopping habits, dwell times, what aisles shoppers go down," Mr. Kramer said. "That's information that has never before been available."
So why the need for computer engineers who once built tanks? "The rain," he said. "These carts are totally 'rugged-ized' to withstand the elements of a parking lot."
As the company moves into retail venues, it will bear the cost of installing the systems and sell the advertising in a revenue-sharing agreement with retailers. The company declined to disclose system costs.
Keep it simple
For Mediacart to succeed, keeping things simple will be critical, said Jeff Dufresne, chief marketing officer at Saatchi X, the Springdale, Ark.-based agency that recently was named Wal-Mart Stores' in-store-marketing agency of record.
"The real shopper out there has significant budget and time constraints," Mr. Dufresne said. "Many in-store-marketing companies get romanced and fall in love with the widgets and gadgets, but you have to look into the minds of the shoppers. You can't add complexity to a dynamic where shoppers more and more just want an easier experience."