If you're making a grocery list this morning, put down your pencil. Brand-new high-tech conveniences are on the way to a supermarket near you.
Grocery stores have kept up with America's tastes, habits and schedules for decades, and they're not missing a beat in 2008.
"I think the grocery store is on the verge of a major revolution," said shopping analyst Paco Underhill.
The Stop and Shop supermarket chain, for example, is test driving a new "shopping buddy" system that scans items as they are placed in shopping carts, keeping a running tally of how much you're spending.
With infrared technology, the buddy system can let you know about bargains in the store you might otherwise miss.
And when you're done shopping, you don't need to place your items on a conveyor belt; the high-tech cart completes the checkout ordeal for you.
Refrigerator Shops for You
The smart-shopper program at the Green Hills Supermarket in Syracuse, N.Y., has also speeded up checkout by allowing customers to pay by touch with a finger-scan system.
All you do is sign up for the system, which links your finger scan to your bank account. When you're ready to check out just press a button and the money is withdrawn — no cash, credit cards or checks need to change hands.
Store managers say half of Green Hills customers are already paying by touch, and they're not only saving time, they're also saving money. The system tracks what products customers buy and rewards them at the beginning of each shopping trip with an array of coupons, and recipes, geared specifically to them.
Self-checkout kiosks are a fast-growing trend in grocery stores. In 2006, customers spent more than $137 billion on self-checkout transactions, many of them at grocery stores — a 24 percent increase from 2005.
And in an innovation right out of a science-fiction movie, people may no longer have to go to the store at all. General Electric is developing a "smart" refrigerator that will keep track of dwindling food supplies and help to assemble grocery lists for their owners.
"Is there any reason your refrigerator couldn't do a major part of your food ordering and save you the trouble?" Underhill said. "The refrigerator keeps track of whether or not you have milk or Tropicana or Dannon yogurt and simply sends a message."