3 Creepy Technologies That Could Be Headed to Your Local Grocery Store

shoppers at grocery store.
Shoppers look at a display of chocolate bars under a ceiling filled with a system of sensors and cameras inside an Amazon Go store in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Just when you finally got the hang of couponing, here come grocery stores with their newfangled bits and bobs of technology.

It’s not just added conveniences like curbside pickup and grocery delivery services; the process of shopping in stores has gotten more streamlined.

While new features can make life easier and help you get your shopping done, they can also be a huge distraction. You remember the hot dogs, but forget the buns — all because you were fiddling with fancy features instead of focusing on your grocery list.

Keep an eye on these emerging technologies next time you hit the aisles. Can you resist their shiny, new charms?

Smile for the Cameras That Know Everything About You

If you’re in a store, there’s a good chance you’re on camera. In the past, security cameras existed to ensure items weren’t walking off on a five-finger discount. Now, retailers want to use images of customers to market to them instantly.

You’ve probably breezed by new facial recognition cameras without realizing it. But once you know what they can do, it can be a bit jarring. One facial recognition technology vendor has a system that can recognize a passing person’s age range, gender, pose, smile and facial hair. These cameras typically don’t gather specific data about you — it makes an educated guess about what type of shopper you are based on your actions and appearance.

On the surface, these cameras register how a customer reacts to a product or promotion without alerting the customer to their presence. At a more involved level, some cameras can alert store staff to the presence of a VIP — perhaps someone who uses the store loyalty program often. But privacy advocates say that not alerting customers to cameras and how they’re used is a violation of their rights.

Stay tuned as retailers navigate the gray area between customized service and customer privacy.

How to keep your cool: Pay attention to how your local store is using loyalty programs and targeted marketing. Most retailers aren’t using facial recognition for their loyalty programs yet, but as cameras get added to stores, you’ll want to be aware of participation options.  

Electronic Tags Could Add a Layer of Temptation

Paper shelf tags make you squint and cause a lot of hassle for store staffs. Enter electronic shelf tags to make things easier.

While some look like square, plastic attachments to the edge of the shelf near each product, some models offer a long, digital strip along the edge of the shelf.

The best digital tags provide additional information with just a touch — ingredient or allergen info, sale dates or even customer reviews. Others may focus on price information accompanied by seasonal or brand-based graphic design.

Another main feature of digital tags is that stores can update pricing almost instantly. It cuts down on the people power needed to update sale pricing and reduces the chance you’ll have to deal with a pricing error at checkout.

While shoppers likely won’t notice grocers changing prices each minute, you may find that promotions and advertisements are catered to you in the aisle. Facial recognition devices, sold with some shelf-front technology, can note an approaching customer’s age, gender or even race to target them for advertising.

Kroger plans to install shelf Edge displays in 200 stores this year.

How to keep your cool: Don’t get distracted by these bright, shiny new signs! Stick to your grocery list and take seemingly targeted messaging with a grain of salt. Grocers can market to you, but it’s up to you to actually pay for products you want.

Goodbye, Checkout Lane

A man scans an app on his phone at a high-tech grocery store.
A customer scans the Amazon Go app on his mobile phone as he enters the Amazon Go store in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Everyone who’s ever tried a self-checkout station knows it can be frustrating. But grocers are working to smooth the checkout experience.

Stop & Shop and ShopRite have offered scan-as-you-go shopping for several years. After local testing, Kroger will expand its Scan, Bag, Go program this year to allow shoppers to scan items with a smartphone app or handheld store device.

You can see a running total while you shop and bag items as you go before paying at a self-checkout station.

Soon, you’ll be able to skip the register altogether. See ya later, lines!

Amazon is already allowing customers to skip checkout at its new convenience stores. The company opened its first cashierless store in Seattle in January, and will follow up with Amazon Go stores in Chicago and San Francisco next.

Shoppers enter the store by swiping their phones with the Amazon Go app. From there, Amazon’s cameras and sensors track what customers select off the shelves. Simply leave the store once you’re done; Amazon knows to put it on your tab.

How to keep your cool: New tech tools are fun, but don’t get caught up in the novelty. If you find yourself extra scanning items for the fun of it, make sure to remove them from your order before checking out.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, covering the retail and grocery industries.