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Self-scanning Grocery Checkout Arrives in Ridgewood

Careful though; it may not save much time or money.

The now gives us the option of scanning our own groceries and packing them up as we go. Last Friday, there were even technical people on hand to help customers using the system for the first time. 

They weren’t getting many takers. And as I watched customers skitter around these nice people on the way in and on the way out of the store, I knew exactly how these shoppers felt. The Wyckoff Stop & Shop has had self-scanning and checkout for more than a year, but when my daughter tried to get me to use it regularly, I backed off.   

“What if I forget to scan an item,” was one of my pleas. And that was even before I discovered that focusing the scanner’s laser on the barcode of a product required a bit of practice. “Get used to it, Mom,” my daughter advised. “This is the way it is going to be.”  

And so instead of dodging the nice young man with his brochure, I swiped my Stop & Shop card and picked up the scanner that had lit up, signaling me it was ready to go. I was on my way. Solo.  

My first stop, as always, is the produce department, but as we shall see later, it is a practice I may have to reverse. In produce, you put your item or items on a scale and then pick from a menu, fruits, vegetables, etc., but the quickest way is to go to the big black “find product” button. 

Then a keyboard comes up and you just punch in the name of the item. In my case, it was potatoes. The machine then gave me buttons for different kinds of potatoes and I punched in Idaho and up popped a label with the price and a bar code to scan.  

I then took my scanner out of  its trusty holder on the cart. scanned the code and up popped the price on the scanner, the first of what would become a running list of everything I put in my cart.  

All went well in produce until I tried to scan a cantaloupe and the scanner told me I would have to set the melon aside until I went through the checkout line.  The same thing happened with a three-pack of canned tuna.  

So that meant I could not go through the store’s only self-checkout line. I would have to go to a cashier. All of them now have little machines for you to scan in all your purchases and then they add in whatever hasn’t scanned. (But beware, they won’t credit your reusable grocery bags unless you ask.) 

According to Wikipedia, the first self check out system in the world was invented by a Dr. Howard Schneider and installed in a New York State Price Chopper in 1992 so it took 18 years to reach Wyckoff and 19 years to reach Ridgewood. (And projections are that world wide, there will still be only 430,000 systems in operation by 2014.) 

There’s lots of online blogging about thieves who cheat the system by scanning only one item but bagging three or not letting the full weight of the produce rest on the scale, but I think there’s also a lot of room for unintentional mistakes too, particularly if you are shopping with children. They can either distract you or put items into your bags when you aren’t looking in their direction.  

I’m a big label reader and suspect I could stop to read the label on something, and then absentmindedly put it in the cart without scanning. The same thing could happen if I stop to chat with people I know. But I also think that with time, proper scanning could become a habit.  

It took me far longer to go up and down the aisles with a scanner than it does when I just pluck items off the shelves and dump them into my cart. The question is, does it save me a lot of time at in the checkout lanes. That will depend on the crowds. You may have scanned all your groceries, but if the three people in front of you haven’t, you are still stuck in line. 

The Wyckoff store has a lot more than one self-checkout lane, where you put in a credit or debit card, after you’ve scanned everything into the system, but even there I see them used mostly by people with a few items. They serve more as express checkout lanes, except, of course, for my daughter who goes through with giant cart loads. 

I do like bagging as I go along which is why I think I will disregard the nutritionists’ advice to always shop the perimeter of the grocery store first. I don’t like crushed bread or broccoli so it seems to me that on big shopping trips,  I should get any canned goods and heavier items first, to go in the bottom of the bags, and then pick up the crushable items. 

But as time goes on, we shall see whether or not I become a big fan of self scanning at the supermarket. At least grocery stores, unlike banks who now charge you monthly for electronic transactions that cost them nothing, aren’t penalizing you for work their employees used to do. Given the recent big hike in food costs, that’s a good thing.

Joann March 23, 2011 at 03:30 PM
More jobs eliminated and more people on the unemployment line. We have to stop taking jobs away from the population. Isn't it bad enough we outsource most of the electronics and products we use in our homes? I don't see this as an advantage for me, as a shopper or the employees in the supermarkets.
njmichelle March 23, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I am a big big fan of the scanners. (1) It makes me very conscious of how much I'm spending, (2) It tells you the sale items in the store throughout your shopping trip, (3) I get to bag my own stuff and organize it accordingly, which makes it easier to unpack when I get home, and (4) It cuts 30 minutes off of my shopping time since I don't have to get in long lines. Can it be frustrating occasionally? Yes. But, on a whole, I prefer it to waiting on long lines. As for stealing, I think the store should worry about it more than the consumers....there will always be dishonest people out there who will steal regardless. Does this make it easier? Of course, but they also audit your bags every so often, to make sure frequent scanner shoppers (like me) are being honest. :). I'm all for the scanners, but they take some getting used to.
jim March 24, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Yay to being unpaid store clerks????
njmichelle March 25, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Yes, I'd prefer to do it myself. And, by the # of people I've seen using the scanners in the Wyckoff store, I would say that I'm not the only one.

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