Whose Line is This TV's Anyway?
I went to the beach for an old-fashioned vacation last week and got a glimpse of the future: Checkout TV at the supermarket.
Now that TVs are in every corner of every airport and even in a growing number of elevators, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see them in the grocery store. But I was. As I approached the checkout, there it was: a very loud TV promoting one supermarket item after another. And when the line was long enough (which it was a couple of times), I even got to listen to some entertainment news, including that night's schedule of TV shows. The Checkout TV was so loud and distracting that I didn't even think about scanning the headlines of the Enquirer or Star for the latest gossip about Angelina and Brad. Or worse, fret that the line was moving slowly.
And that's precisely the point. Food industry officials say customers hate to wait in line so the TVs are there to help reduce the perceived waiting time. (In the process, the TVs also may help boost a store's revenues since the store may get money from the TV advertisers for carrying their promotions.)
I spotted Checkout TV in an Acme supermarket on the New Jersey shore. Acme was part of Albertsons, which was acquired recently by SuperValu. SuperValu's spokeswoman Haley M. Meyer said the TVs "were installed after customer surveys told us that shoppers wanted more useful information where and when they were making their purchasing decisions. Programming includes integrated information and advertising focused on health, home and family ... topics deemed to be of special interest to most shoppers."
She added: "Customers view the videos during the two or three minutes they may be waiting in the checkout line, so, by and large, they welcome the diversion and perhaps a reminder of something they forgot to pick up on their store visit." The vast majority of customers like the TVs, she said, although Supervalu realizes there may be a small number in the "minority faction."
I guess I'm one of the latter, largely because the TV was so loud I found it obtrusive. A few days later, I was in an elevator with a TV, but in that case, there was no sound. So it was my choice if I wanted to pay attention to the screen or not. I had no such choice at the supermarket. Even the checkout clerk grumbled when I asked him about TVs. He said that a few months earlier, he ended up listening to Justin Timberlake over and over again; by the time he left work he felt like doing something criminal. Since then, he has tried to work at the one checkout lane that doesn't have the TV, but he's not always successful.
Premier Retail Networks (PRN) runs the Checkout TV network that's found in Acme. It has TVs in 1,110 supermarkets nationwide. Anne White, PRN's vice president of programming and creative, said she can't recall any programming involving Justin Timberlake; the clerk may have confused it with other in-store programming.
Perhaps that means there's too much advertising in the store? White thinks not. "With the proliferation of advertising all around, we don't want to be invasive, but at the same time, the checkout line is a great opportunity to do something to take peoples' minds off waiting in line. ... No matter how great your shopping experience may be in a store, if you have to stand in line, you will not consider it a good experience," White said.
PRN studies, she added, show that 76 percent of supermarket shoppers watch Checkout TV when it's available; of those, 94 percent say "it's a good thing."
And White added, there are other companies also offering some sort of checkout TV service. In other words, she acknowledged, it's only a matter of time before the future comes to my store, too.
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