The Stop & Shop near my house is running a pilot program which introduces a new way to shop: check out AS you shop.
The system works like this:
1) scan your Stop & Shop card at a kiosk to get a portable scanner
2) take the scanner and some bags with you while you shop
3) scan items as you put them in your cart
4) return the scanner when you pay
It’s an interesting idea, and the portable scanners are pretty slick (I’d guesstimate they cost $500 or more apiece, possibly approaching $1000). The portable scanner has a barcode scanner, a color screen (I’m guessing windows-mobile PDA), and wireless connection to the store computer. There is a wire holder on the shopping cart to put the scanner in when you are wheeling the cart around.
But the system is obviously a first stab at things, because it has a number of issues. Here are the issues, and the possible solutions for each:
Next to the kiosk where you get the scanner, there are plastic bags (also reusable bags for sale). If you choose to use plastic bags, you have to guesstimate how many you will need for your whole shopping trip. When you take a few bags, they are stuck together and hard to separate.
The solution to this would be to have a bag holder mounted on the cart, perhaps on the front or side. They probably couldn’t use the back because they have to leave the toddler seat intact.
The best answer, of course, is to use reusable bags. I should really use those, but for whatever reason I don’t, maybe because hauling around 5 large cloth bags (typically I get 2-5 bags of groceries at a trip) seems like a pain, and I always get the feeling that I’ll be accused of stealing them, since they sell them in the store. Silly, I know, but I always feel paranoid about that.
What they should do is incentivize people (ooo, can you tell I work at a corporation?) to use the test system by giving them a free cloth bag the first time they use the system. That would get them to use at least one cloth bag, give them a reason to try the pilot, and would make them consider using cloth bags for all their shopping.
This is a minor one, but a major annoyance, which would grow if more people used the system. As you walk around, offers are shown on the screen of the scanner. Ok, fine, whatever. But every so often, the scanner plays a cash register “CHA-CHING!” sound to get you to look at it and whatever it’s offering. It also caused anyone in the area to stop and stare in my direction, trying to figure out what just made that loud noise. A couple other people were using the scanners, and you could tell where we all were by listening for the loud “CHA-CHING!” sounds.
Solution: Turn off the annoying sound.
To allow the scanner to scan produce, they added scale kiosks to the produce section. You choose your produce, weigh it, and it prints out a label to stick on your produce. The label has a barcode you can scan in with the scanner.
This is not horrible, but kind of wasteful, and a little annoying (it took me three tries to get it to print a label, and it didn’t seem like I did anything different the third time). I’ve heard that it’s possible to scan a barcode displayed on LCD, you could probably easily scan one on an e-ink display. That way you wouldn’t have to print a label. Just show the barcode on a screen of the scale kiosk, and have the user scan that.
I’ll have to try my barcode scanner at home out on some screens, see how well that works. Yes, I have a couple barcode scanners at home. Did you expect otherwise? 😉
Ok, this is a major flaw. So you finish going through the store, scanning and bagging as you go. You have everything rung up in the scanner, and everything bagged in your cart, so you can just pay and go, right?
Not so fast.
You still have to go through a standard checkout lane, scan a “done shopping” barcode, and scan your Stop & Shop card. Then the scan history from the barcode scanner is transferred to the checkout lane, which re-rings everything up and then allows you to pay.
This is a MAJOR drag, because it’s a hack. To not have to rework the register’s programming, the data is transferred as if it were being scanned at the register. Which sounds ok until you realize what that means. Registers have a recognition time built-in, a couple seconds per item. This seems even longer when it’s sending a scan one at a time to the register. The user experience? You scan “done shopping”, scan your card, then wait while everything you have rung up in the scanner is re-rung up, verry slowly. You stand there for several minutes, the same time it would take to ring up at the register normally, watching a list slowly scroll by. Only once it’s all rung up can you pay.
The net result is that you’ve saved no time. The innovation has been rendered moot by making you go through checkout. It actually might have been *faster* to do it through current self-checkout, since you wouldn’t have spent time frigging with the scanner and bags as you shopped.
The solution? Well, obviously this is a pilot, and the checkout has been set up as a hack. If it were done for reals, there should be a separate checkout for people using the scanner, an even faster self-checkout.
But if they did want to use the same lanes, they need to edit the register software to accept the scanner’s data as a batch, so as soon as you scan “done shopping” and scan your card, you are instantly presented with the total, and can pay and go.
It’s an interesting system, and could be the next step of self-checkout. I liked having a running total on the scanner, and you could also use it for a price check anytime you wanted. It made more more aware of how much I was spending, more precise than the rough total I keep in my head.
There’s also a lot of potential there – since it’s based on your Stop & Shop card ID, in the future they could allow you to go on the Stop & Shop website, build a shopping list, and have your list show up on the scanner as you shop. They could match items on your list with items on sale, and give you relevant offers. They could even put RFID chips in the scanners to track where they are in the store, and have it give you offers relevant to the aisle you are currently in.
There’s a TV ad, I forget which company it was from, but it stuck with me:
It opens with a teen dressed in black entering a supermarket. He goes from aisle to aisle, stuffing items into his pockets, he even takes a steak and hides it in his jacket.
He walks to the exit, and as he passes through what looks like a metal detector, it beeps, and a security guard looks his way, shouts “hey” and starts after him.
The teen walks briskly out of the store, and on the sidewalk, the guard catches up with him. “Sir,” he says, slightly out of breath. The teen turns around. The guard reaches out, says “You forgot your receipt!” and hands him a slip of paper.
Then the logo of the company pops up (I forget who) and it says something about changing the way you think about shopping.
The idea being that all the items in the store were equipped with RFID chips, as was the teen’s credit card, so as he walked through the “metal detector” all the RFID chips were inventoried and his card was charged, all ubiquitously.
It’s an interesting idea. Some people prefer not to have a digital purchase trail, for privacy reasons, but if the “metal detector” in that ad accepted cash, the same model would work.
So keep at it, Stop & Shop. Nice try, but it’s not there yet.