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Grocery shopping goes high-tech

Chicago new supermarket carts equipped with touch screens will guide you to tomatoes or toothpicks, let you order deli meat without standing in line and keep a running tally of your purchases.

What they won’t do is tell you how many fat grams or calories are in your cart. The idea is to make it easier for consumers to buy, not induce second thoughts.

IBM’s “shopping buddy” has been test-marketed at Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts. It will be rolled out this summer. A competing device called Concierge, made by Springboard Retail Networks Inc., will be tested in June and July.

People can use a home computer to make their shopping list. Once at the store, they can use their preferred customer card, or a key that fits on a key chain, to log in to a system that will organize their trip through the aisles.

If you’re looking for toothpicks, you type in the word or pick it from a list, and the screen will display a map showing where you are and where you can find them.

The Concierge and IBM’s cart are equipped with the miniature equivalent of a GPS. Sensors can track the devices to see where your cart is, so that as you turn down an aisle, the screen can show what’s there on your list and which items are on sale.

The systems also keep a running tally of what you buy. Many stores do so already through preferred customer cards, but what’s new is the store can offer special discounts based on your buying habits or tell you while you’re in the store that one of your favorite products is on sale.

There are differences between the Concierge and the shopping buddy. The Concierge is mounted on the handle of a shopping cart. With the buddy, shoppers pick it up in the store and fit it into a holder on the cart.

The Concierge has a bar-code scanner on the bottom of the panel, while the buddy has a detachable wand to scan your items.