Not buying Microsoft's MediaCart

These MediaCart consoles coming to a grocery cart near you courtesy of Microsoft had better be sturdy and firmly attached or they are all but certain to suffer the same fate as that stomped-upon copier in "Office Space."

There's just something about being asked to push a rolling billboard up and down the grocery aisle that brings out the techno-rage in people.

According to an Associated Press story, Microsoft and its $6 billion acquisition aQuantive are just about set to test the limits of public patience for ever-more-omnipresent advertising.

Starting in the second half of 2008, the companies plan to test MediaCart in Wakefern Food Corp.'s ShopRite supermarkets on the East Coast. Customers with a ShopRite loyalty card will be able to log into a Web site at home and type in their grocery lists; when they get to the store and swipe their card on the MediaCart console, the list will appear. As shoppers scan their items and place them in their cart, the console gives a running price tally and checks items off the shopping list.

The system also uses radio-frequency identification to sense where the shopper's cart is in the store. The RFID data can help ShopRite and food makers understand shopping patterns, and the technology can also be used to send certain advertisements to people at certain points - an ad for 50 cents off Oreos, for example, when a shopper enters the cookie aisle. Microsoft said it is still working on how it will present commercials and coupons.

What's not to like about MediaCart? I mean beside the prospect of being subjected to cookie commercials in aisle three.

Let's start with the first step of the process, entering my grocery list on a Web site. Who's going to do this unless it would result in having the goods arrive on your doorstep as with Peapod?

Today I assemble my grocery list using two pieces of time-tested technology: a pencil and a piece of paper. The combination has never let me down, and, best of all, the piece of paper attaches to my refrigerator door with a small magnet (another underrated invention) so that I can access and update it throughout the week without the help of my computer or the Internet.

Call me a curmudgeonly Luddite (you won't be the first).

Moreover, what we're really talking about here with MediaCart is having a pushy salesperson perched across from your squirming toddler. "Hey, look, 50 cents off Oreos ... Two-for-one on Skippy ... Are you really going to serve that rice with that fish?"

No, thanks.

To be fair, there could be an upside to MediaCart as it would seem to reduce the chances of pricey impulse buying, especially at the checkout line MediaCart is supposedly going to let shoppers bypass (I'm waiting to see how they solve the deli and produce issues). The grocery industry has learned of this trade-off already since the proliferation of self-checkout aisles got underway, according to studies.

Of course, there's always the chance that ShopRite shoppers will decide that MediaCart is the wrong way to shop.

But I do know this much for certain: The advertising industry will not stop until they literally invade our dreams ... and grocers won't believe shoppers are doing enough of the work until we're actually stocking shelves.

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