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The Future of Shopping 163

Hugh Pickens writes "The WSJ reports that a new device, now in use at about half of Ahold USA's Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets in the Northeast, is making supermarket shoppers — and stores — happier. Looking like a smartphone, perched on the handle of your shopping cart, it scans grocery items as you add them to your cart. And while shoppers like it because it helps avoid an interminable wait at the cashier, retailers like it because the device encourages shoppers to buy more, probably because of targeted coupons and the control felt by consumers while using the device. Retail experts predict that before long most of these mobile shopping gadgets will be supplanted by customers' own smartphones. As more customers load their smartphones with debit, credit and loyalty card information, more stores will adopt streamlined checkout technology."
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The Future of Shopping

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  • IBM createda commercial that explored what a grocery store without checkout lines. I'd love to live in a world in which I could optionally make all my purchases that way.

    • Goddamn comment ate my anchor tag. The commercial [youtube.com].

    • AT&T's commercials that ran in 1993 [youtube.com] (skip to about 2:00 to see) had something similar, too. But both of these seem more like what we'd use RFID for than scanning items one at a time.

    • by daem0n1x ( 748565 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:07PM (#36172566)

      Stores assume people will buy more, which won't happen, because people have no money and are avoiding spending as much as possible. I did my job, I cut all my expenses really hard, every time I go to a supermarket, I take a shopping list that I follow strictly. I only buy what I really need, and always buy the cheapest products that don't suck.

      Funny, because here in my country the big retail tycoons are the most vocal about reducing wages and social benefits. They forget that people without money can't buy the fancy shit they sell.

      • It still saves stores money. The cost of a device is far less than the cost of a cashier, and far less than a self-checkout line. The problem will come with easier shop lifting and scanning lower priced items and putting higher priced items in the cart.

        And before you say, "Yeah, but they probably check the weight," remember, 2 similar bottles of shampoo weigh close enough to the same that someone can walk out with a $40 bottle of shampoo, but only pay $10 for a bottle of Suave. Yes, they can trace invento

      • The purpose of coupons and the like is to bring customers specifically to your store or your products.

        They don't necessarily need that you spend more. And, as you point out, during economically unsure time, people do NOT spend more anyway. They only need that you spend your money on their premise.

        Imagine that you need to buy milk. You're low on milk in your fridge (or your Internet enabled Fridget tweets you that you should buy milk :-D ), so you add it on grocery list of what you need to buy next saturday,

    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      In the UK, Waitrose have had this system since about 1995 (according to some kid's coursework [coursework.info], but it sounds about right).

      • Was going to mention this as well - I remember seeing a system like this in the UK in 1997, and it was pretty impressive. I think it may have been Tesco or Sainsbury's, but same idea. Not sure why it's taken 15 years to get this to America.

  • I've used them and I like them. It's nice to just bring your own bags to the store, and just scan and bag all your items while you shop. Then when you get to the check out counter (either the self checkout or regular lane). You don't have to unload all your stuff just to scan and then bag it again.

    My only issue is that Stop and Shop is more expensive than other stores in the area.

    • One of the store chains in my area ran a test with them too. Unfortunately, they were discontinued. I'm not privy to the real reasons, but I suspect that there was a lot of theft. The store had to trust that you had actually scanned all the items in your cart. The other problem from my perspective was that the little kiosks that let you price produce (they gave you a barcoded sticker to scan) kept breaking.

      • Wouldn't weight sensors in the cart handle the problem of people not scanning items? The sensor detects a change in weight, yet there's no corresponding scanned item, so a servo is activated which locks the wheels until you scan the item in question. Doesn't seem that difficult to do.

    • Yeah but what is there to prevent shoplifting? Those automated checkouts are fairly easy to "trick" and get 1 or 2 free products.

      Example: About two months ago, a scanner subtracted an item after it had already rolled to the end of the belt. I could have bagged it easily w/o anyone noticing. With this "automated cart" I imagine it would be even easier.

      • Random audits at checkout. About every 10th time or so that I used the U-Scan at my local Stop & Shop, I was randomly selected to have 5 random items in my cart checked out by a clerk to make sure that I had scanned them. Takes about 30 seconds total, and not having to wait in line at checkout easily saved me at least 20 minutes at the grocery store per visit.
        • by Eivind ( 15695 )

          Yeah. Random audits. Check that 5 randomly picked articles are scanned for every tenth shopper or something.

          If you discover that one or more isn't scanned, check the rest and respond apropriately. (if someone has 137 articles, one of which isn't scanned, they -probably- forgot it, if they've got 137 articles, none of which are scanned, they're a thief)

          One problem is people in the "nothing-to-lose" category. You've got a 90% chance of wheeling a cartful of high-value groceries out unhindered. For most people

  • Nothing new (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We've had these for years in the UK

  • I'm all for spending less time in the store, especially in a checkout line. I do not welcome stores further tracking my buying habits by requiring an app that ties my shopping list to a loyalty card and my debit card.

    They already know I buy a lot of tinfoil. They still do not know I make hats out of it. Dammit, I just told them.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      becasue if the know your buying habits they will....? what exactly?

      • Re:Mixed bag (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @07:09PM (#36172590) Homepage

        "The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through the automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable."

                  â" U.S. Privacy Protection Study Commission, 1977

  • ...it would give asshole customers less time to mock the poor wage slaves
  • Been using this in our local Stop & Shop for the last year and it really does make the trip easier. You're allowed to use the express lane no matter how much you're buying if you use the hand-held scanner. The only pain is occassionally they do a random audit which requires a cashier to come over and scan 7 random items in your bags. The cool part is you can bag as you add to your cart and keep track of how much you're spending.
    • I like the idea. How does your store handle produce and bulk items? I typically buy a lot of items that are priced by weight. I suppose there could be networked scales in the produce section.
      • A local store that was running a test project using these things had kiosks with a scale and a printer. You put the item on it and touched the picture of the item you were buying (or entered the PLU code) and it printed a barcode that you could scan.

        • That's very interesting. Not sure how I feel about that. When the cashier slowly figures it out, I can talk to my wife during that time so it's not as much of a total waste. Hmm..... Thanks for the info!
    • and how do you do produce where you weigh it? Yeah, i put mine down on a shelf within 5 minutes of picking it up and never used it again. This is why i usually get groceries delivered..
  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @06:23PM (#36172038) Homepage
    There's always one freaking item that won't scan no matter what you do, and you're left with keying in a number that's a mile long, or you have to call for help. The self-checkout at Wally World moves slower than the other checkout that have live human beings.

    Would these scanners be better and more reliable?
    • The advantage here is that you're scanning right at the shelf. So if the item has unreadable barcode, you just put it back on the shelf and take another one.

      • by makomk ( 752139 )

        Unless that particular thing refuses to scan no matter which of them you pick off the shelf. I think that does happen sometimes already - the barcode on one item is badly positioned, or badly sized, or has been printed in a bad choice of colour and it consistently won't scan.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          OK, you win. Lets not adopt technology because occasional it won't have maximum efficiency.

          • by crossmr ( 957846 )

            The problem is is that if it's not as convenient as what we have now..why use it?
            The cashier can override and just punch in the price if they need to.

        • Then either pick a competing product, or scan the bar code on the front of the shelf. Doesn't seem that difficult either way.

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      They may not be better or more reliable, but they're cheaper. That means that you're not standing in line behind everybody else with their one item that doesn't scan. That could be a huge time savings. Checking out should be an "embarrassingly parallel" problem.

  • they simply select "Remove" from the menu option, scan the item again, and it is removed from the cart. The total is updated.

    Simply? It's a lot easier to just put it back on the shelf...

    I like cool gadgets... but when it takes longer ans is more finicky than the "old" way, I dunno. I guess it depends on the customer. I'd probably try it just for fun, but it seems like this is kinda destined for the same problem as self-checkout stands; replaces employees but break down a lot and you end up having to wait a while, since there's only one employee "manning" all four stations...

    • by Eivind ( 15695 )

      It doesn't take longer. To the contrary, you save the time you currently spend waiting for the checkout, and packing your goods.

      Instead you bring your own crate, and put it in the cart. Scan goods and put them in the crate. Then when done, wheel the entire thing directly to your car and lift the crate over into your trunk. Simple, quick.

      Today ?

      Put things in cart. Wait in line. Take things -out- of cart to have them scanned. Put things -back- in cart, bring to car.

      Todays pack-wait-unpack-pack-go cycle is a l

  • I've never used 'em. I don't use the self checkout unless I'm only getting a couple items, either, and god help you if you want to get beer. Honestly, the checkout lines are never a problem at our Stop and Shop so there's no real added convenience to using it for me.

  • by aembleton ( 324527 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {notelbmea}> on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @06:30PM (#36172136) Homepage
    I first used these in the UK in Safeway back in the late 90s. Now that they've been takenover by Morrisons I don't think they have them anymore.

    Waitrose still have them though. You just swipe your credit card and it tells you which handset to pick up, and then you do your shopping. Article from 1997: http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/articles.aspx?page=articles&ID=33232 [thegrocer.co.uk]

    Is this really a new thing in the US?
  • Like self check-out, this is about increasing profits by replacing human employees with machines.

    First section in the store is produce. "How do you weigh this?" "I don't know." Left the device on a shelf... Back to Peapod delivery for me.

    • by cos(0) ( 455098 )

      replacing human employees with machines.

      You make this sound like it's a bad thing.

      • I just doubt the extra profits would be passed on to me.

        Also, I'm not willing to do self-checkout anywhere where it is offered. In fact - it's such bullshit in person that i always order mine online. I can't be trifled with running through all their annoying hoops. I thought self-checkout was bad enough, but this is even worse.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          Of course they will, as other stores use them.

          Yes, we Get it. Self check out is too fucking complex for you to do. I'm sure there will always be a service for the mentally handicapped, so you do not need to keep posting how check out is too difficult for you to do without someone holding your hand.

          • Ah yes, another geek who insults someone who has a different opinion as them. That's why your crowd is renowned for its popularity.
            • He's replying to an aristocrat who can't be bothered to obtain their own FOOD.

              If the friendly guy bringing your groceries doesn't show up for long enough you'll die.

              That's the epitome of a lazy first worlder. When even the things necessary for life are too irritating for you to manage yourself so you outsource them.

              • Let's see - grocery shopping as a 2 person job still takes me and my wife 2-3 hours. Delivery is $10 and for every $100 spent you get $0.10/G off your next gas purchase, so if we get $500 groceries in one order, we can fill both our cars up for $3.50/G instead of $4G. Is your money really that important to you?

                Nevermind that this is essentially a personal attack from you because someone doesn't do things your way. Classy.

            • Fine. Hide your paranoia by feigning to be insulted by the commenter, while you blatantly berate a technology without ever giving it a proper chance. This is /. you know -- we geeks always defend technology and take an unfair assessment of one personally.

              Now lets address your points --
              • Produce
              • : Every Stop and Shop; Shaws; Dave's; around here is sprinkled with weigh scales for produce that instantly spit out a bar code print label. You should try one of these. Hopefully a big colorful touch screen wi

              • Yea, the scales didn't have printers when we tried this out. We stood next to one and looked. And the high unemployment of late is quite the indicator that americans with shitty skills don't just magically get jobs when you replace/outsource/insource them. And there is no "paranoia" or "feigning being insulted" when somebody calls you "mentally handicapped". No need to feign. That is a real insult. If anyone is feigning, you are feigning that I was not insulted. Goodbye.
        • Someone already answered this upthread: http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2167426&cid=36172204 [slashdot.org]

        • by jfengel ( 409917 )

          It doesn't have to save me money. It saves me time, which is even more valuable. In a store with self-checkout machines there are often twice as many lanes open, and I'm not stuck behind somebody with two carts full or arguing over a three-cent different on a box of Life cereal.

          I would pay extra for the privilege of not having to deal with that.

          • That is definitely a valid consideration. But what saves me the most time is ordering online. For $10 I never have to go there in the first place. It's at my front door. Takes 20 minutes with my wife to get $500 of groceries in. Saves us 2+ hrs each, as we go together.
    • So you choose to get the lowest quality produce at incredibly high prices because the concept of a scale didn't occur to you?
      • The quality of my produce is quite good, and I've comp'ed the prices before. Lemme know when you are capable of answering my original question - how do these things work with produce? There's not even a bar code. It often takes the cashier a full minute to figure out how to ring up things like bok choi.
        • I did answer your question. You use a scale. They are placed obviously around the produce section with large signs indicating they are for use with the self scanner.
          • Maybe in your store. When my wife & I went, we looked around at length for an explanation and found none. I even stood within 2 feet of a scale while doing this....
    • That is related to part of the reason I rarely use self checkout even when I am only buying one or two items. When the two major grocery store chains near me introduced self checkout, they kept making an announcement over the instore PA something like this, "Now for your convenience, we have self checkout." Well, I knew full well that they did not institute self checkout for the shoppers' convenience, they introduced self checkout to save money on cashiers. I would not mind that, but I did mind them repeate
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I simply object to the whole de-humanisation of shopping. That might sound odd for the type of person who posts to Slashdot and therefore probably does a lot of on-line shopping, but when I go somewhere I really like to interact with the shop staff a bit and feel like I am being treated as a valued customer.

      I only started feeling that way after using Japanese shops. They don't seem to have self-service checkouts at all and in busy shops they often have two people on one till, so one can scan and handle the

      • I hear you. If there's going to be no humans, I may as well order online (which is how I get 99% of my groceries anyway).
    • by Nyder ( 754090 )

      Like self check-out, this is about increasing profits by replacing human employees with machines.

      First section in the store is produce. "How do you weigh this?" "I don't know." Left the device on a shelf... Back to Peapod delivery for me.

      'cept your going to yell at the deliver person to get off your lawn.

      • If that was supposed to be an insult that carried any weight, you need more practice at the internet. I get unattended delivery anyway - I don't see the guy. We hear the boxes being loaded while watching TV (cause they always miss their delivery window) and move them to our kitchen in our pajamas and underwear :)
  • Safeway trialled this in the UK 15 years ago in the mid 90s at several of their largest supermarkets including the one I shopped at. The device itself was a bit more crude (basically a barcode scanner with a memory and 16x2 LCD screen) but the concept was identical. It was also a massive failure, because people would do everything they could to steal things up to and including stealing the scanners. Then, because of the increased shrinkage, the chances of being forced to 'randomly' go back through the norma
  • ...not so well on veggies or other things that don't have barcodes.

    • ...not so well on veggies or other things that don't have barcodes.

      Not to worry. Monsanto is already working on this.

  • It's been done already. This has already been tried with larger "gun" style laser scanners. Apparently it didn't catch on.

    Not sure this will fare any better.

    This sort of thing seems to go over a lot like 3-D movies.

  • I won't use this for two reasons:

    1. It costs Americans jobs.

    2. They're not going to pay me to do their work, nor are they going to discount if I use this, or self-checkout, so I've only used self checkout a handful of times.

    As time goes on vendors cut services while maintaining high prices. I'll be damned if I'm going to be an enabler encouraging this trend.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      OMG, it's costs jobs. Yeah, so do cars, and buses, and whatever YOU do for a living.

      Less costs to the company always reduces prices over all.

      Hey, you want to waste your time waiting in line, fine., But don't make shit up to excuse your Luddite behavior.

      • OMG, it's costs jobs. Yeah, so do cars, and buses, and whatever YOU do for a living.

        Less costs to the company always reduces prices over all.

        Hey, you want to waste your time waiting in line, fine., But don't make shit up to excuse your Luddite behavior.

        GP Poster's second point is not luddite: if I don't get a discount for using self-checkout, why should I use it?

        In Italy, the highway system has toll stations where you pay, and to reduce costs and queues they have introduced a wireless thingy you can use so you don't have to stop at the toll booths, just slow down to a reasonable speed and go through a gate that charges you automatically.

        I have nothing against that, it makes perfect sense, but I refuse to have to pay extra (a yearly fee, not just th

    • The incentive for you to use the scanners is a more accurate checkout, not having to waste months of your life being corralled like an animal, and "instant coupons" that might save you money. It's pretty ridiculous having millions of people waving stuff in front of scanners all day for their occupation, but if you really want to save jobs cross out the bar-codes so that the prices have to be entered manually.
    • Hey, don't look now, but I think there are some damn kids on your lawn.

  • Yeah, I can just see using my smartphone to scan items as I shop.

    So, the phone is running the scan application, keeping the screen and camera live so that it is easy to use. And using CPU to try to locate barcodes in the camera image.

    Then, after about 45 minutes of grocery shopping after a full day at work my phone shuts down.

    Right. That's going to work really well.

  • so all that increased productivity will be passed on to the working class, right?

    Seriously though, anyone know what we're going to do with all these people we don't need any more. I'll trot out my favorite example, the sleeping bag factory that cranks out 2 MILLION bags/year with a total staff of 500 people (including marketing, sales staff, ceo, cfo, IT support, EVERYONE). So far the only viable option I've heard is a) socialism and b) die in a gutter. There's just not enough work for all these people.
  • I support the jobs of people there and would rather wait to ensure they have a job, then to use some type of system so that they are not needed
  • "And while shoppers like it because it helps avoid an interminable wait at the cashier...."

    Shoppers will spend more time scanning their items than they would waiting at the cashier. It will only seem like they are saving time because the psychological perception of small amounts of time is different than that of one large chunk of time. In the meantime, the store saves money by getting the shopper to do their work for free.

    I actually avoid stores that routinely make you wait at the cashier (Fry's in my town

  • While I was living in Brussels, Belgium (circa 99) I was already using a similar device at the local AD Delhaize supermarket... Granted, it was probably bulkier back in those days, but the same principle applied.
  • Whatever happened to the concept that you'd just push your cart through an RFID portal, everything in your cart would be interrogated, and you'd get an immediate bill? [baselinemag.com] Wal-Mart was behind that. NCR demonstrated it in 2004. That was a more promising idea.

    Vision systems for checkout are available. There's LaneHawk [evoretail.com], for recognizing big items at the bottom of the cart, and VeggieVision [unr.edu], for recognizing vegetables on a scale pan. Automated checkout is getting better.

    The future of retail looks more like We

  • I have seen it for over six or so years, and been using it for at least four. It is now fully automated: Draw your customer card to get a scanner unit, enter the store and put stuff in your bag while scanning them, put the scanner at its stand, draw customer card and credit card at a touch-screen station.

    Simple, quick and no need to stand in a line. :)

  • When I go to the supermarket I take my own cart. I don't drive, so I can't load the groceries into a car. If I was to carry all the items all the way home (15 min walk) my arms would get sore, so I bought a little shopping cart from Amazon a few years ago. Best purchase I ever made.

  • And this deemed newsworthy enough for a posting on slashdot?

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan