- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Chevy Chase Supermarket is going to be asking “Cash, check or cell phone?” at the checkout soon.

The family run grocery store on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase is text messaging customers about deals and plans to soon accept payment through cell phones equipped with the right technology.

The supermarket hopes that a 4:30 p.m. text message about a chicken sale or a Sunday evening note about ice cream discounts will prove worthwhile for them and customers.

The technology is a big jump for the independent supermarket that just started using computers at the checkout 18 months ago. But it’s the first in the competitive Washington-area grocery market to use it.

“To keep up with everybody, we have to differentiate ourselves,” said co-owner Kevin Kirsch. “We’re a mom-and-pop store. We had to ask, ‘What will make us different and unique?’”

The text messages are the first stage in a process of eliminating the pricey grocery loyalty programs employed by most chains and used by 75 percent of American shoppers. There is no cost to enroll, but text messaging fees from the phone provider apply — about 10 cents per message, or a monthly fee for unlimited use.

About 1,500 Chevy Chase Supermarket customers have already signed up, Mr. Kirsch said.

Next, Chevy Chase Supermarket plans to send HTML-enabled messages with photos in e-mails or to cell phones and hand-held devices, such as BlackBerrys, practically making its weekly circulars obsolete.

By the end of next year, the supermarket plans to install Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology at the checkout counter that will enable customers to swipe their phones, with their stored credit-card information, at the counter.

RFID is the automatic identification technology used in E-Z Pass.

Mobile Lime, the Watertown, Mass., company working with Chevy Chase Supermarket, is also using the technology in independent supermarkets, restaurants and small retailers in five states.

Robert J. Wesley, Mobile Lime’s president and chief executive officer, said the technology is more effective than traditional fliers or loyalty programs because it gives retailers a way to talk to customers in the same way customers talk to friends or family.

When a blizzard hit Boston in February, grocery store Broadway Marketplace sent a text message to its customers telling them they were offering 10 percent “blizzard” discounts.

Sales in the rush on bread, milk and other essentials were 46 percent higher during that blizzard than they were for other winter storms, Mr. Wesley said.

McDonald’s, Exxon Mobil and some other retailers use similar technology in key chain attachments, such as SpeedPass, offered by other providers.

But the checkout-lane technology will only take off if RFID-enabled phones do, too.

ABI Research, an Oyster Bay, N.Y., technology research firm, said only 30 percent of cell phones shipped five years from now will come equipped with the technology necessary to conduct transactions at the check-out counter.

Analyst Stuart Carlaw said phone providers are having a hard time figuring out how they are going to make money by enabling customers to swipe their phones for payment. Instead, he said, they can make money by charging online banking fees and connecting to other services.

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