GPS-assisted grocery shopping: for people too incompetent to be grocery shopping anyway

No independent adult could possibly need this

You surely know already that standard supermarkets are laid out according to scientific principles designed to convince the consumer (that's you) to part with as much of your money as possible. The fact that, for example, you must traverse the entirety of the store to get from the produce department to the dairy aisle—no, that's not a coincidence.

Of course, there are ways you can protect yourself and your wallet. You should always compare the unit prices of various items to decide which is the better deal — 10 ounces for a dollar is a much better deal than 3 ounces for 50 cents, even though your initial out-of-pocket cost is twice as much. And, of course, you walk into the grocery store with a list of items you need to buy, then stick to the list rather than splurge on an impulse purchase.

In-store GPS

However, sticking to these budget-saving principles will become a lot harder, if you let GPS technology make your shopping decisions for you. The Philips company is currently partnering with select European supermarkets to develop an in-store GPS system to help customers find the items they're looking for — and make additional purchase suggestions.

Regular GPS devices plot their location by reading signals from orbiting satellites. The Philips in-store system does this by reading “intelligent LED” lights positioned in strategic places throughout the store. According to a Philips-produced infographic, here's how the system will work:

“David has decided to cook a Mexican meal for his friends this evening. He chooses guacamole in the supermarket app he downloaded. It suggests a recipe for fresh guacamole that he accepts. The light fixture above David sends his location to his smartphone and the app plots a route to the ingredients. Spotting David's location at the fresh vegetables section, the light fixture prompts the app to offer him 50% off on avocados. David then receives a suggestion for a dessert of Mexican 'churros.' He opts for a readymade option. The light fixture communicates his location and the app plots a route to the churros.”

Is it merely a coincidence that the infographic mentions “David” rather than “Donna”? According to sitcoms and various TV commercials, after all, the male of the species is supposed to be hopelessly incompetent regarding such basic life tasks as doing his own laundry and feeding himself.

PhotoEven assuming this is true, it's hard not to wonder: if David genuinely needs a smartphone app to tell him that avocados are found in the vegetable aisle, how has David managed to survive this long?

But never mind that. Whether it's David or Donna in this scenario, it's still worth asking: what's the problem here? Wouldn't David or Donna or anyone else benefit from 50 percent off some avocados he's intended to buy anyway?

Maybe. Or maybe not. Remember when we mentioned the importance of checking unit prices? That's especially true regarding coupons and discount offers — 50 percent off a high-price product can still be more expensive than paying full price for something less expensive.

Philips is hardly the only company to try integrating supermarkets and spy tech. Last October, we told you about a new innovation coming to select American grocery stores next year: “smart” shelves that spy on customers in order to target us with personalized ads based on our age, gender and other variables.

You probably can't stop the ads from targeting you, but you can refuse to succumb to them. Plan your recipes and grocery list before you go to the supermarket, check the unit prices of everything you buy, shop from the list — and rely on your own eyes, rather than a store-sponsored GPS device, to navigate your way through the tempting currents swirling through the aisles at the grocery store.

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