Microsoft is set to bring contextual advertising to supermarket trolleys through a partnership with retail IT group Mediacart.

The two companies say they will begin testing a system that displays targeted multimedia ads and incentives on cart-mounted screens later this year.

Managed by Atlas’ ad serving technology, which Microsoft acquired a few months ago, the ads will be tailored to consumers’ past purchases and their location within stores.

They should also provide retailers with a wealth of data about shoppers’ behaviour, and are set to be trialled by Wakefern Food Corp in over 200 outlets in the US.

For brands, the targeting opportunities are clear, as well as the chance to extend web ad tracking techniques to shoppers that are making purchases offline.

But for many consumers, the deal might not seem quite as attractive. To be part of the full thing, they will reportedly have to:

  1. Sign up to the retailer’s loyalty card programme that provides details of their historical purchases.
  2. Visit a website to type in their shopping list before heading out to the shops.
  3. Swipe their loyalty card on the trolley’s interactive terminal when they get to the store.
  4. Try and bear ad badgering throughout an already bleak shopping experience.

In return, they will be able to automatically keep a running tally of how much they have spent, as well as access a digital shopping list.

MediaCart says it will also develop other services to increase the system’s appeal.

Predictably, the plans have received a mixed response from cynics in the blogosphere, with criticism focusing particularly on the experience consumers might be subjected to.

But one imagines the companies will work pretty hard on that, and that it will be welcomed by shoppers that are keen to be told about bargains as they move around stores.

Joseph Colalillo, chairman and CEO of Wakefern, perhaps optimistically, said the system would provide customers with “a cutting edge shopping experience, unmatched in the industry”.

Scott Ferris, GM of Microsoft’s Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, added that it was “continuing to push the envelope in the digital advertising realm”.

Some pictures and a video of the system are here, for you to decide.