Tesco stores trial virtual assistant

Tesco is testing "virtual" shop assistants at some stores to provide customers with extra product information.

Tesco is testing "virtual" shop assistants at some stores to provide customers with extra product information.

James Rogers

Three stores in the London area are using an Omniscan barcode reader and database to show customers trailers of certain videos.

A Tesco spokesperson said, "We know from talking to customers that they like as much information as possible about what they are about to buy. If this scheme is successful we will extend it to other stores and potentially to other products."

The technology, which is powered by a Pentium 3 1Gbyte processor, uses a HTML database to store the film trailers.

John Cole, managing director of Omniscan manufacturer Retec, said, "We constructed the database using Flash and Director, which give us very powerful image control. The speed of recovery of information is also fantastic."

Cole warns that speedy access to information is crucial for this type of technology. He said, "Our designs have got to be focused because a customer will only step in front of a screen in a store for about 60 seconds. You have to get your message across quickly, which is why we use a lot of voiceovers and animation."

He anticipates that the Omniscan system could evolve into a central database for retailers to use across a range of products.

"In the future you could have something like 20 screens, all linked up to a conventional server for which the database has all the products on it. This is a powerful communications tool, we are using this technology to explain sophisticated products," Cole explained.

HMV's flagship Oxford Street store already uses a similar type of barcode activated technology for its "listening posts".

A number of other retailers are also looking at the technology to provide in-depth information on a range of products including electrical items and food. In food stores these could provide warnings for customers with allergies and identify products with genetically modified content.

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