Unipower Solutions is the St Albans-based software developer behind the Personal Shopping Assistant. It has been running trials in the US with retailer Stop and Shop, which is so impressed that manufacture of the PSA has gone out to tender. At the heart of the technology, according to Unipower's commercial manager James Pemberton, is the software which will allow retailers to maintain intelligent, loyalty-based favourites lists for customers. He says: "At the moment, most lists act as a dump for everything you've ever bought, even if it's a CD or video. But ours only puts in the relevant items, those bought every week." It also has the ability to recognise items that are bought infrequently. "If you buy washing powder every six weeks, it will add that to your list, but only every six weeks." Pemberton says the system can also compile the list while the shopper is online and it can be used easily in the store, either through kiosks which will give customers their list as they enter, or through the PSA, which he describes as the ultimate method of bringing the online element of a favourites list into the store environment. His enthusiasm for the project is obvious and after successful trials in the US, he is looking for interested retailers in the UK and Europe. He says: "I think retailers can't fail to show an interest in something like this, it's got that edge of innovation, but it's also tangible." The system is certainly clever and this year scooped the Most Innovative award at the Microsoft European Retail Application Developer Awards. Effectively, Pemberton and his team are talking about using trolley-mounted touchscreen laptop computers. The machines are capable of operating without wireless, allowing sensors in the ceiling to communicate with the console, giving it the information it needs to supply the customer. Shoppers would clip the store's computer onto the trolley, and identify themselves to the machine, either through the use of a loyalty card or a credit card, and be ready to start shopping. The PSA would show their regular favourites lists and highlight any special offers that were available in the store. "It uses an RF network, with sensors embedded in the ceiling which tracks a customer round the store, so the network knows where the customer is and what products are nearby. When a trolley is pushed down an aisle it will highlight the special offers and deals," says Pemberton. Incorporating a scanner into the design also allows customers to scan their shopping and check themselves out. And that's not all. The PSA provides a map of the store, a remote ordering system so a customer can order an item at the deli while still shopping, and anyone who's really stuck can call for help from a member of staff. And to keep the kids quiet, there's even a game of bingo. However, it is the opportunity for promotions that is one of the most important aspects of the PSA, says Pemberton. "It allows retailers to target their shoppers exactly at the point of decision." And this, he points out, could be worth more than just increased sales. "From the fmcg point of view, if the supplier knows a customer is a regular buyer of a competitor's product, it would be willing to pay to be able to offer them a discount on its brand at the point of decision." The ability to relay advertisements direct to customers was one of the main motivating factors for Stop and Shop's interest, Pemberton says. But at the moment its main drawback is cost. One unit is $1,200, although the price would fall with higher production levels, says Pemberton. He adds that during the Stop and Shop trial the equipment proved popular with young and old shoppers while basket size increased by 5% and footfall by around 3%. So, with the opportunity for the industry to boost sales and generate promotional revenue, UK shoppers could soon find themselves getting to grips with the smart' trolley and one day we may even develop the artificially intelligent trolley­capable of crashing into other shoppers all by itself. n {{FEATURES }}