Microsoft’s Atlas Delivers Ads to Shopping Carts

After a nine-month pilot, Microsoft, MediaCart, and Wakefern Food will collaborate to serve targeted ads onto shopping cart video displays. Microsoft’s Atlas digital ad management division will dynamically deliver offers as consumers shop the aisles at approximately 200 of Wakefern’s ShopRite locations toward the second half of 2008.

The digital shopping and ad system will supplement the grocery experience in a number of ways, including when consumers are pulling items from store shelves. Loyalty members can scan their cards after selecting a cart and have ads targeted based on previous purchases or on what items are closest to the cart. The latter targeting approach works using RFID (define) technology.

Integrating advertising into the shopping experience is “another example of how we are leading the charge to other channels,” said Scott Ferris, GM of Microsoft’s Advertiser and Publisher Solutions.

Atlas was able to adapt its video on demand technology to deliver advertising for this program with few changes to the technology. “This is very analogous, in a sense, because of the enablement of just-in-time advertising and location-based advertising,” said Ferris. While the data are anonymous, Atlas can target offers based on a user’s past shopping experience and location in the store to deliver an ad for a product, such as a particular brand of cookie, as a shopper approaches a given aisle.

Ad units include static banner images and video units. The MediaCart’s display does more than serve targeted ads; it aids customer shopping by displaying the shopping list a customer uploaded to her member loyalty account on her PC. The display can locate items on the list, or help a customer locate an item through voice activation or search functionality. A customer can also scan each item as it is placed in the cart, and calculate totals to facilitate check-out.

ShopRite also hopes to gain valuable data in the implementation of MediaCarts, for instance by observing traffic flow through the store, which can help it decide where best to place the week’s sale items. Retailers are challenged with the arrangement of merchandise, said Ferris. “They are constantly changing up their merchandise… [With MediaCart] they are better able to understand what’s happening with the movement of the carts across the store.”

The rollout to over 200 ShopRite stores comes after a nine-month pilot run by MediaCart, Microsoft, and Wakefern. During the trial period, the three parties learned to become more efficient in terms of traffic flow, according to Ferris.

Microsoft and MediaCart have worked on the MediaCart project for about four years and developed the display using a Microsoft Windows CE-based system and Microsoft SQL server. The cart has a display on the far end, and a control panel with a scanner built into the handle where users can type in commands and scan bar coded items. The carts dock into a recharging terminal when not in use, and are charged by the motion in the wheels when in use.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive last summer, Atlas was integrated into the process. “The history between Microsoft and MediaCart has been how to build a superior shopping cart that is media-centric,” said Ferris. “Management of inventory between content owner, advertiser, grocer, is fairly complicated and… the aQuantive technology was better prepared than Microsoft.”

Sales of the targeted ads will be handled by MediaCart in the immediate future.

“We don’t want to create a whole new sales distribution platform,” Ferris said. “We do want to get our hands on the early experiences and early feedback so we can perfect the offering.”

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