UK supermarket trials satnav to help shoppers navigate store

Fed up with clueless customers wandering around aimlessly in search of the Marmite, a British supermarket has introduced a sat-nav service in one of its stores.

Tesco has installed a prototype system at its Romford, north London branch, and is looking for customers with Android phones to test it out.

The application is based on an in-store Wifi system, rather than GPS, to track the location of the user. Shoppers can input their shopping list, and the system will guide them around the store via the quickest route.

But the company’s uncertain whether the technology will ever make it off the drawing board.

“The system involves a lot of infrastructure installation in the stores so we need to get all kinds of people involved in thinking about the customer experience. It would be awful if we did all this work but few customers really used it,” says the company’s Nick Lansley.

“We must also see how we would put the technology into our production applications and make it really easy for everyone to use. There’s also the possibility that the infrastructure is not reliable right now.”

Indeed, as things stand, says Lansley, the system can only locate a shopper to within three meters, allowing for quite some room for error.

In any case, we’d be surprised if the app made it out into the wild. Supermarkets generally put quite a lot of effort into making people stay in their stores as long as possible, hoping you’ll pick up a pack of polenta as you wander around fruitlessly searching for eggs.

The last thing on their minds, we’d have thought, would be a way of helping customers get in and out as quickly as possible and actually sticking to their shopping lists.

Still, it sounds fun. And if you’re unfortunate enough to live in Romford and would like to take part, you can email R&D project manager Ben Martin at [email protected] with the subject line ‘Satnav app’.