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Retailers Test New Technology During Economic Slowdown - 2002-03-28

The economic slowdown of the last few months has prompted U.S. retailers to try out new technologies in hopes of cutting costs and strengthening their relationships with consumers.

Portable cash registers enable clerks to step in when they see a long line forming at check-out counters, and speed things up.

In addition, Forrester Research retail analyst Kate Delhagen says, some stores are installing self-service check out systems.

"It's a cashier-less checkout system, where the customers scan their own products, and get through the line more quickly," she said. "And, although the initial cost of putting in one of those registers is relatively high, the retailer no longer needs to staff that register with a human being, so they are eliminating labor costs."

Harold Raveche, the president of Stevens Institute of Technology, says some stores offer consumers another gadget - hand-held computers that help them keep track of how much they are spending, before they get to the check-out counter.

"In supermarkets, you have hand-held devices, or wireless technology, that you can scan and see what is in your wagon as you go around," he said. "In fact, in some places, you can do it remotely [over the Internet], and then they will deliver it to your house."

Hand-held computers enable workers to tag merchandise on store shelves, and keep track of inventory. Kate Delhagen, the retail analyst, says store inventory databases these days are able to keep track of precisely where products are - on the shelves, in the supply chains or already sold.

"Many retailers are now using real-time sales data that they will capture through the point-of-sale terminals to keep track of the inventory as it moves out of their stores, and they will send that data directly to the manufacturers to do an automatic replenishment or reorder," she said

Then, Kate Delhagen says, there is the emergence of digital screens that explain to customers what products can do and how they work, as well as showing advertisements for the products.

"For example, you might be in an electronics store, and some of the display technology around those products is beaming out marketing messages from some of those suppliers," she said. "You may see a commercial [for the product] while you are looking at a product. These are some marketing developments that are starting to show up."

Today's marketing tool may well become tomorrow's information source. Can't find a salesperson? Increasingly, in the store of the future, Kate Delhagen predicts, you won't need one. You will be able to have most of your questions answered by a digital screen.