November 13, 2007

Scan-As-You-Go Shopping


The handheld shopping scanner.

Also, a photo of the produce scale.

When I stopped by the supermarket on Monday I was accosted by a fellow in a bright red "Red Sox" jersey and a well-dressed woman. They asked me if I wanted to try out the new shopping system, so of course I said "yes." That's how I roll.

The new system involves a hand-held scanner. I handed over my shopper's card to be scanned into the system and it associated the scanner to my card. I had to agree to a few terms, a little more about that later.

As the woman placed some empty shopping bags into my cart, the fellow explained the system to me. As I take an item off the shelf, I scan the barcode, and then place my item in one of my bags. Effectively, I would be scanning my items and bagging them as I shopped.

The scanner will give me a running total of my order and a list of the items I'd bagged. If I wanted to remove an item, I press a "remove" button and then rescan the barcode before placing the item back on the shelf.

For produce, the system is a little more involved. I choose my produce and place it on one of the new scales that are positioned at the end of all the produce bins. Then I punch in the 4-digit code for that item and the scale weighs the produce. For items that are sold by unit, I enter the number of items. Then I press a "print" button which prints out a sticker with an appropriate barcode for that produce item. I scan that barcode and then bag the item in my cart.

I thanked him and got to it.

I started with the produce aisle. Since the new system is a little cumbersome for produce, I found I was spending more time in that section than in other parts of the store. But things went smoothly (except for one scale that had run out of paper).

After a few minutes, while the scanner was sitting in my cart, it emitted a beep and I saw the the bottom of the screen was telling me about a sale item in this week's circular.

It didn't look like a lot of people were trying out this new technology, and I got some weird looks from people ad I went around pointing the scanner at things and bagging them in my cart.

When I was finished, I went to one of the self-checkouts which had a poster with a picture of the scanner on it. There is a special barcode on the poster that you scan to indicate the end of your order. You now have a chance to scan any unscanned items (like checkout-line impulse purchases) and run your credit card or other form of payment.

I returned the scanner to the two folks who greeted me at the entrance and gave them a generally positive review of the technology, which worked very smoothly.

The Good

  • For large orders, scanning each item as you put it in the basket means reducing the number of times you tough the item. This saves time. Instead of moving the item from shelf to basket to checkout belt to basket and then to your car, you simply move it from the shelf, to your cart and then into your car.
  • If you like to use reusable bags, this works well. I hate having my reusable bags in my cart, lying there uselessly while I shop. And I feel strange about bagging items that I'm going to have to unbag when I get to the checkout. With this system, if you have your own bags, you can use them right away.
  • It's nice to see a running total of how much money you're spending on the order.
  • If you're unsure about the price of something, you get an immediate answer, and it's easy to put the item back on the shelf if you change your mind.
  • Your loose produce is weighed precisely while you're still in the produce section. If you want a pound of green beans, you can get a pound of them. It's easy to adjust your amounts because the beans are right there.
  • If other people are using this system, no more long waits in the checkout lane while the slowpoke in front of you decides that bagging is a Zen experience best done at the speed of chilled molasses.
  • Less pressure to buy impulse items in the checkout
  • I can put my ice cream in a cooler or freezer bag right away.

The Bad

  • For every produce item, before you bag, you have to go to a scale. This is a lot of walking back and forth if you buy a lot of produce, and possibly a bottleneck if other people are, too. You could work around this by having separate areas in your cart for scanned and unscanned items. Grab three different produce items and take them all to a scale. But that slightly breaks the model.
  • Small learning curve may mean you will encounter confused people. It may also mean you're thinking about the scanner and forgetting you need buttermilk.
  • Not good for small orders. If you have a handbasket, you probably want to skip the scanner. It's really only useful if you're pushing a cart. I don't like to use a cart all the time because you can't maneuver as well around the slowpokes.
  • THE MAN KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE BUYING! Not a big concern for me, truth be told.

How are they going to prevent theft? That's one of the things that you agree to when you use the system. They do random audits of people using the scanner. So far, apparently, they haven't seen much theft. The stuff you agree to with the new scanner is not much different from what you agree to by using a shopper's card in the first place.


  • Have dedicated hand-scanner aisles. I wandered a bit looking for a free aisle. It defeats a lot of the purpose of hand-scanning if I have to get in line behind two people who didn't.
  • Have some sort of easy-pay option. Other Stop & Shop stores have this, but not our local. Associate my credit card with my shopper's card so that when I scan "end of order" I can then press "easy pay" and it goes directly to my credit card. Then I just take my receipt and walk out.

I'll definitely use the hand scanner again, especially for larger orders. I'm all for increased checkout efficiency, because I hate time wasted at the supermarket.

If you've tried the system, let me know what you think.
Posted by James at November 13, 2007 2:11 PM
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Another "the bad":

This is just a way to eliminate someone's job.

Posted by: David Grenier at November 13, 2007 3:08 PM

I figure "the man" knows what I'm buying anyway, since *somebody* is going to scan my card and groceries at some point.

You know what else is difficult about bringing my own bags - if I'm not really quick, the bagger starts stuffing my things into a plastic bag. If I protest, s/he'll just put the plastic bag into my cloth bag, defeating the whole purpose of bringing the cloth bag. Same thing happens if I want paper instead of plastic. (This is true even at self-checkout when there are baggers around.)

I like bagging my own groceries anyway, because some of their baggers really don't seem to get why you put the cleaning chemicals in a separate bag, or why you don't put all the canned goods in the same bag.

Posted by: Julie at November 13, 2007 3:26 PM

Sounds cool! I hope we get that up here soon.

Posted by: Karen at November 13, 2007 4:42 PM

I'd like to see that out here. It would be good to have a running total and a list. Do they have a mechanism to catch the cheaters? Ooops! I forgot to scan my three pounds of shrimp...

Posted by: briwei at November 13, 2007 6:39 PM

David- yes in the same way that you eliminate a low paying job every time you automate something. You also create higher paying jobs. Developing the system, programming the system, maintaining the system. I assume they will also now have what they used to call store "detectives" to catch cheaters (they actually called them that when i worked at Caldor's in the 80s).

Brian - see above. They will also have 4-5 fewer checkers. They must figure that with some random checks and a couple of people walking around the store they will make up for losses by having to pay fewer people.

Julie- I always try to bag my on groceries in my own cloth bags. I hate when they start bagging in plastic then throw out the bag when you show them the cloth bags you brought. I mix chemicals and food. When was the last time you had a chemical spill from an unopened bottle.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 14, 2007 8:01 AM

I had an unopened bleach bottled eat a hole in my closet floor, but I wouldn't expect that to happen in a shopping cart. I suppose it could, though. I have had milk bottles leak.

I like meat to go in a separate bag, especially from raw foods, and I also like to bag my stuff according to where I'm going to put it away, so I generally put the shampoo and stuff in one bag that's separate from kitchen stuff.

At the local market, they always bag meat separately. I like the local market. They have a meat counter where you can buy the exact quantities you want. I really hate Stop&Shop because it's so big, but sometimes I can't get the stuff I need at the little place.

Posted by: Maggie at November 14, 2007 8:49 AM

I can't wait until the Stop n Shop closest to me gets these.

Posted by: leslie at November 14, 2007 11:11 AM

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