US 20020121547 A1
A system for detecting and rewarding the use of a shopping cart in a supermarket. All shopping carts are provided with an optically identifiable individual identification and, at the same time in the supermarket, detection means are available for automatically and optically detecting this identification and thus for automatically and contactlessly detecting the presence of the shopping cart in the supermarket. The individual identifier of the shopping carts preferably is a bar code or a series of numbers and/or letters, and the detection device includes a digital image processing camera or a scanner. The reward for using a shopping cart can be issued in the form of an entry in a lottery and/or can be made dependent on the proper return of the shopping cart to a collection point.
1. A system to detect and reward use of a shopping cart in a shopping center, comprising
a number of shopping carts (1) as well as detection means installed in the shopping center to automatically wirelessly detect the shopping cart (1) in the shopping center,
each shopping cart (1) is provided with an optically identifiable, individual identification (19,20), wherein the detection means optically recognizes each shopping cart (1) by the identification (19, 20).
2. A system according to
the detection means includes at least one digital image-processing camera (5).
3. A system according to one of
the detection means includes at least one scanner.
4. A system according to one of claims 1 through 3, wherein the individual identification (19, 20) of the shopping carts (1) comprises a bar code or a series of numbers and/or letters.
5. A system according to one of claims 1 through 4, wherein
optical detection means are arranged at different locations in the shopping center that are connected to a central data processing unit so as to detect a local and/or temporal history of a path of each of the shopping carts (1) through the shopping center.
6. A system according to
7. A system according to
a terminal is located in the shopping center to display and issue the bonus or the lottery prize.
8. A system according to one of claims 1 through 7, wherein
the detection means also include an optical sending unit (6) and the shopping carts (1) are provided with optical receiving units (7) to store and/or display optically transmitted signals (9).
9. A system according to
the optical receiving units (7) attached to the shopping carts (1) are provided to forward the received signals (9) to a customer-owned data medium (18).
10. A system according to
11. A system according to one of claims 8 through 10, wherein
the optical sending units (6) comprise IR light sources.
12. A system according to one of claims 8 through 10, wherein the optical sending units (6) comprise a light signal (9) that is modulated according to a normal lighting of the shopping center.
13. A system according to one of claims 1 through 12, wherein
other optical detection means (12) are provided at a collection point (10) for shopping carts (1) for recognizing each of the shopping carts (1) and issuing a reward when the shopping cart (1) is returned that had been recognized as being in the shopping center previously, or produces a signal to issue the reward.
14. A system according to
the other optical detection means (12) recognize whether the returned shopping cart (1) has been placed within a prescribed tolerance into a stacked row of shopping carts (11) provided at the collection point (10).
15. A system according to
the other optical detection means (12) are arranged such that they only detect shopping carts (1) that are put away inside of the collection point (10).
16. A method to detect and reward the use of a shopping cart in a shopping center, comprising
automatically and wirelessly detecting the existence of a shopping cart in the shopping center using detection means installed there, wherein
the existence of a shopping cart in the shopping center is detected using optical recognition of an optically identifiable individual identification on the shopping cart.
17. A method according to
detecting the local and/or temporal history of the path of the shopping cart through the shopping center using a number of detection means installed at various points in the shopping center.
18. A method according to
assigning randomly selected shopping carts a bonus or a lottery prize.
19. A method according to
20. A method according to claims 16 through 19, further comprising
detecting the existence of a shopping cart in a shopping center collection point through optical recognition of the optically identifiable individual identification of the shopping cart and, when the existence of the same shopping cart in the shopping center had been detected previously, issuing a reward for the return of the shopping cart to the collection point, or producing a signal for the issuance of a reward.
21. A method according to
the reward is then issued or the signal for issuance of a reward is only produced if the returned shopping cart has been placed within a prescribed tolerance into a stacked row of shopping carts provided at the collection point.
22. A method according to
the reward is only issued or the signal to issue a reward is only produced when the returned shopping cart is stored inside of the collection point.
 This invention pertains to a method and a system to detect and reward the use of a shopping cart in a shopping center, wherein the existence of a shopping cart at the shopping center is automatically and wirelessly detected. To accomplish this, the system has in it a number of shopping carts as well as detection means installed in the shopping center to automatically, wirelessly detect the existence of shopping carts.
 Shopping centers designed for self-service are generally interested in customers using a shopping cart to go shopping. Investigations by customer studies have shown that customers without shopping carts purchase considerably less goods than if they were to use a shopping cart while shopping. The shopping centers are thus trying to offer customers an incentive to use the shopping carts at their disposal. To this end, a reward system presents itself in which the existence of a shopping cart is detected automatically and wirelessly in the shopping center in the manner mentioned above in order to give a bonus to the user of this detected shopping cart, or at least to provide the prospect of it.
 The detection means noted above to automatically and wirelessly detect the existence of a shopping cart in the shopping center are known in another use, such as to reward the return of a shopping cart to the collection points provided for it, as provided in WO 98/51197: Here, an electronic system to detect and reward the return of shopping carts has been proposed in which every shopping cart is provided with an electronic sender-receiver device. This unit allows the shopping carts, which can be taken from the collection point without a deposit, to be electronically identified. A first signal A is produced when a particular shopping cart passes through the cash register of the shopping center and is recognized electronically. A second signal B is produced when the same cart is stored at a collection point is also electronically identified there and recognized in this manner. A central data processing unit in the shopping center receives both signals A and B, correlates them and issues a bonus.
 The electronic sender-receiver devices, which according to this prior art in WO 98/51197 have to be attached to each shopping cart, nonetheless result in considerable added cost to initially equip each cart and considerable maintenance expense to provide the necessary mobile power supply. Moreover, shopping carts are often not handled very gently so that frequent damage to these sender-receiver devices has to be taken into account.
 With this prior art as a basis to work from, the object of this invention is to make available a method and a system to detect and reward the use of a shopping cart in a shopping center that raises the user frequency of shopping carts with little installation and maintenance costs.
 This object is met by a system with the features of the accompanying patent claim 1 as well as by a method with the features of the accompanying patent claim 16.
 Advantageous embodiments of the system can be found in claims 2 through 15, preferred extensions of the method are noted in claims 17 through 22.
 According to the invention, the shopping carts are provided with an optically identifiable, individual identity, by means of which the existence of the shopping cart in the shopping canter can be recognized by optical means.
 For example, in the simplest case this can be accomplished by providing every shopping cart with a bar code or a series of numbers and/or letters as an optically readable identity so that a digital image-processing camera, such as a CCD camera, and/or a scanner that preferably operates with laser light can identify every shopping cart reliably.
 This invention utilizes the principle that an optical signal—in the case of the camera the surrounding light—is reflected in a way that is characteristic for each shopping cart, and the reflected signal is recognized by an optical detector. The shopping carts can thus be designed as pure passive reflectors and thus do not have to be equipped with a signal transmitter or with a detector. It is possible to retrofit existing shopping carts at any time with the least amount of work. This principle can also be implemented in other ways than using a bar code or similar means: It would be conceivable, for example, to characteristically polarize or shift the frequency of the reflected light for each individual shopping cart.
 The measures according to the invention thus make it possible to automatically recognize, using the simplest means to retrofit the equipment in any shopping center, whether a customer is using a shopping cart or not so as to translate this fact into the issuance of a bonus. This bonus can, for example be a rebate that is credited to the customer at the cash register. To this end, it can make sense to network a number of detection means distributed about the shopping center with a central data processing unit in order to detect the local and/or temporal history of the path of each shopping cart through the shopping center; the reason is that the issuance of a bonus can be coupled to the duration of the customer's stay in the store this way or to the existence of the customer at an activity or the like. Of course, it is also possible to also take into account the makeup and the value of the purchase when this is detected at the cash register of the shopping center in order to calculate the bonus to be issued.
 Since it is not at all in the interest of the shopping center to credit every customer who uses a shopping cart a bonus in the form of a monetary sum or a rebate, the system according to the invention can be used to arrange a form of contest: Only those who use a shopping cart take part in the contest and have the chance to win a prize. This would generally offer sufficient incentive to get the customers to use a shopping cart. Thus, only randomly selected shopping carts are awarded a bonus or a lottery winning. The random selection of the shopping cart can be weighted by taking into account local and/or temporal route data of the shopping cart through the shopping center, i.e. in the simplest case, by providing that the chances of winning increase as more detection means are passed and/or the slower a shopping cart is pushed through the shopping center.
 To this end, it is preferable to provide a terminal to display and issue the bonus or lottery winnings, which in particular can be located near the cash register. It is conceivable, for example to have a large lit display with the contents “Cart number . . . has received a prize available here at the terminal”.
 In implementing this principle according to the invention, it can be advantageous to also provide the shopping cart with optical receiving equipment and to provide the detection means installed in the store with optical sending equipment so that the shopping cart can receive optically transmitted signals and save or display them. These measures can make the above-mentioned contest more interesting for the customer: The sending equipment can issue optical signals using a random generator or counter pulses or the like when the detection means recognizes a shopping cart that passes by, and these signal are received and saved or displayed by the shopping cart. If the signals are displayed right away, this can be immediately recognized by the customer, which increases his incentive to remain longer in the shopping center. It is conceivable, for example, to have a prize point system in which the signals issued from the sending equipment are registered by the receiving equipment in the shopping cart as prize points and in which the customer knows that he will receive a lottery prize when he collects five prize points, for example. In between immediate displays of prize points received, a side effect could be to provide advertisements, for example the contents: “To your left is today's special offer . . . ” sent from the optical sending equipment to the shopping cart and displayed there for the customer.
 Instead of a display of the signals received at the shopping cart by the optical receiver equipment attached to it, these signals can also be forwarded to a customer-owned data medium, in particular to a chip card. If this chip card is used at the cash register for cashless payment of the purchase, the bonus issued or lottery winnings can automatically be taken into account when paying.
 The preferred additional optical sending equipment at the detection means can be made up of IR light sources, which makes them invisible to the customer. However, they can also be made up of a light signal modulated according to the normal lighting of the shopping center—which is particularly simple to do. The latter requires no installations of additional light sources in the shopping center.
 An especially preferred variation of the invention results when further optical detection means are provided at a collection point for shopping carts to recognize each shopping cart and when they are designed such that they issue a reward when a shopping cart previously in the shopping center is returned, or else issue a signal to issue a reward. This reward can in turn be gambling points for participation in a contest; it is however also conceivable to have a credit certificate issued to be deducted from a later purchase. This variation of the invention has the big advantage in that not only is the use of a shopping cart made more attractive to the customer, but also promotes the straightening up, i.e. the return of the shopping cart to the collection point provided for it. This is because history has shown the motivation of the customers to return a used shopping cart to the collection point after making a purchase to be very low. Instead, the shopping carts are usually left where they had been unloaded; normally right in the middle of the customer parking lot of the shopping center. This leads to frustrating obstructions and to some extent to damage of customer vehicles so that additional personnel is necessary to gather the shopping carts at regular intervals and to bring them back to the collection points. To this end it can also be desirable to reward the return of any shopping cart that had been recognized as being in the shopping center previously, because there are enough customers who will bring abandoned shopping carts that are not even used by them back to the collection points, thus straightening them up.
 It is entirely possible in the context of the invention to reward the use of a shopping cart only when the shopping cart is also returned to a collection point. This results in a system to reward the return of shopping carts that functions without the use of lock boxes and nonetheless works without the additional expense of the prior art described above. In the simplest case, a shopping cart provided with an optically readable identity is identified anywhere in the shopping center, preferably at the cash register, for example by a CCD camera or a scanner. When the shopping cart is returned to the collection point, the shopping cart is again recognized in the same manner, whereupon a bonus is issued. This system can be retrofitted in any shopping center with the simplest of means; the advantages in comparison to the prior art are obvious. Other advantages result when it is also recognized when returning the shopping cart to the collection point whether or not the shopping cart had been properly stored at the collection point, i.e. not haphazardly, but pushed into the stacked row that is formed there. In particular, if a CCD camera is used to recognize the return of the shopping cart to the collection point, it is possible by the simplest of means to only issue a bonus when the shopping cart is pushed into the stacked row within prescribed tolerances. Even a common CCD camera can be programmed to recognize the handlebar of a shopping cart as well as its distance and/or its being parallel. If, moreover, the camera is located such that it only detects shopping carts that are put away inside of the collection point, this creates the incentive for the customers to evenly distribute the shopping carts to a number of collection points and not just “overflow” the nearest collection point to the shopping center.
 Various preferred embodiments of the system according to the invention are described in more detail on the basis of the attached drawings. Shown are:
FIG. 1 is a schematic side view of a cash register of a shopping center;
FIG. 2 a schematic side view of a collection point with a stacked row of shopping carts;
FIG. 3 is a schematic representation of the handle area of a shopping cart;
FIGS. 4, 4a and 4 b illustrate examples for an optically readable identity located on a shopping cart.
 In FIG. 1 it is shown schematically how a shopping cart 1 passes by a cash register 2 of a shopping center. The cash register 2 is provided with a reader 3 in common fashion and a display 4. Above the cash register area is a CCD camera 5 that can safely identify the shopping cart 1 by means of a bar code, not shown in detail here. Next to the CCD camera 5 is also a sending unit 6 above the cash register and the shopping cart 1 is also provided with a detector 7 that is attached to the handle 8. The sending unit 6 emits a light signal 9 in the infrared region which is intercepted by the detector 7.
FIG. 2 shows schematically a collection point 10 with a stacked row 11 of shopping carts into which the shopping cart 1 is to be placed. Above the stacked row 11 is another CCD camera 12 that is capable, similar to the first CCD camera 5 in FIG. 1, of identifying the shopping cart 1 with the help of its identity (not visible here). Also, the CCD camera 12 is capable of detecting and recognizing the handle 8 of shopping carts 1 standing in the stacked row 11 and their orientation to and separation from one another, so as to determine whether the last shopping cart 1 had been properly pushed into the stacked row 11. So that this recognition also occurs when the first shopping cart 1 of the stacked row 11 is stored into the collection point 10, there is a type of mock handle located at the rear of the collection point 10. When the stacked row 11 becomes too long, the handle 6 of the last shopping cart 1 is no longer detected so that no bonus can also be issued. The CCD camera 12 is networked together with CCD camera 5 through a central data processing unit (not shown), which had stored the fact that the shopping cart 1 had passed through the cash register 2. This is now correlated with the signal received by the CCD camera 12 that the shopping cart 1 has been properly stored in the collection point 10. An issuing device 13 at the entrance to the collection point 10 is also connected to the central data processing unit and issues a bonus in the form of a credit certificate to be cashed in at the next purchase for the use and proper return of the shopping cart 1.
FIG. 3 shows the detector 7 already depicted in FIG. 1 at the handle 8 of the shopping cart 1 in more detail. The light signal 9 issued from the sending unit 6 arrives at a converging lens 14 of the detector 7 and is redirected by it to a photodiode 15. The photodiode 15 cooperates with an evaluation circuit 16 that can keep the various light signals 9 separate and save them for a certain time period. A customer chip card 18 can be inserted into a read-write device 17 of the detector 7, for example a customer card that is also used for cashless payment at the cash register. If the shopping cart 1 equipped with this detector is led through a shopping center with a number of sending units (not shown) similar to the sending unit 6 from FIG. 1, the evaluation circuit 16 collects a number of different light signals 9 in a sequence depending on the path of the customer so that this path information is written directly onto evaluated on the chip card 18 of the customer. When paying at the cash register 2, the chip card 18 is then read out and a reward for the use of the shopping cart 1, for example the participation in a contest, is issued. In the same manner, the chip card 18 can be written on with the information of proper return when the shopping cart 1 is returned so that the customer can receive a credit certificate for his next purchase for his properly returning the shopping cart 1 to the collection point. An issuing device 13 at the collection point 10 is in this way unnecessary.
FIG. 4 shows a schematic side view of a shopping cart 1 of another exemplary embodiment of the invention, wherein FIGS. 4a and 4 b show detail A in a plan view for two different embodiment forms. These are a shopping cart 1 without a detector 7, which differs from common shopping carts only in that it has a bar code 19, 20 shown in FIGS. 4a and 4 b. In case of FIG. 4a, the bar code 19 is in a corner of the shopping cart 1 and in case of FIG. 4bg, the bar code 20 is on the front of the shopping cart 1. The especially simple retrofitting of such identities designed as bar codes 19, 20 and the ease of legibility by a CCD camera 5 (FIG. 1) or CCD camera 12 (FIG. 2) is clear to see.
1 Shopping Cart
2 Cash Register
3 Read Device
5 CCD Camera
6 Sending Unit
9 Light Signal
10 Collection Point
11 Stacked Row
12 CCD Camera (other)
13 Issuing Device
14 Converging Lens
16 Evaluation Unit
17 Read-Write Device
18 Chip Card
19 Bar Code
20 Bar Code