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July 21, 2009

Self-scanning as you go at the supermarket

Six years ago I wrote a story for the food section about the new self-scan lanes. My lead was "Passions are running high at your local supermarket." Now it's hard to remember what the fuss was about. Either you like them or you don't, but no big deal.

I just heard about the next generation of self-scanners from Good Eater Peter -- hand-held, scan as you go. They've been installed in his Giant in Timonium.

Good idea or bad idea? I can't quite decide. I embrace technology, but not when there are more potential glitches than advantages to moi. ...

Probably the store is going to have to rearrange its shelves from heaviest to most fragile and lightest so I can bag efficiently before I stop thinking it's probably more trouble than it's worth. But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

Here's Peter's e-mail to me:

We should discuss one of the latest features to invade Giant Food stores - the Scan It! device. It's a handheld scanner that readers the bar codes on groceries.

Here's how it works: You walk into your local grocery (mine is the new Giant in Timonium) with your reuseable bags and you go to the Scan It! display, scan your store ID card, and pick up the flashing handheld scanner. As you shop, you scan your groceries and bag them. When finished you simply present your scanner at any checkout, the information is downloaded and you pay.

It's a great labor-saving device for the checkout clerk but does it save the shopper much time? My experience is probably not. If you bag as you go, you tend not to bag as efficiently. Plus, it slows you down. What happens if you change your mind about buying an item? There's probably a way around it but I'm not patient enough to find out.

On the plus side, the scanner has an LCD screen that flashes store specials as you enter the aisle. The grocery carts even have a convenient holster to hold the scanners as you shop.

Buying produce involves a two-step process where you have to weigh, count or otherwise define your selection so a sticker with an appropriate bar code can be created.

What do others think?

Peter was also bemoaning the fact that he only got one comment on his Walter Cronkite post. So while you're checking out the link I gave you, make his day.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 12:03 PM | | Comments (50)


Scan as you go sounds like it has definite pluses and minuses. I would like to give it try. This probably won't hit my area for awhile though.

Good Eater Peter wrote: It's a great labor-saving device for the checkout clerk...

Uh, I think it is a job elimination device for the checkout clerks.

For a while I avoided the self scanning lines but for some reason here in Arizona, grocery cashiers seem insistent on scanning ALL items and THEN bagging them. This just wastes my time. You should be scanning and bagging at the same time. I think the cashiers are either expecting a bagger to do it for them or think if they are slow enough, you will do it for them. In the latter case I can do without the cashiers so most of the time I now do my own scanning/bagging and won't feel sorry for the cashiers who lose their jobs.

I always want the human to do the checkout at Whole Foods. They make some good mistakes in your favor. More than a few times when they can't find the code for some fruit or vegetable they give up and give it to me for free. Chance that plantains get rung in as bananas because they know the banana code by heart 50%

It's good if you are only buying a few items. Don't do it if you're doing a full grocery shopping! Way too cumbersome to scan and bag as you shop.

My Giant has the regular self check out lines. I refuse to use them until they start giving me a discount for doing all the work. When you are by yourself it definately slows you down, since you can't bag as you go, and I always seem to have a problem with the scanner. For one or two items I sometimes make an exception.

If you bring your own bags it works better, but what would be best is if you could link it to your credit card (like they do in some other states)... then you just scan, bag, and walk out of the store when you are done.
Otherwise, it really isn't much faster.

I insist on using the 15 item and less line no matter how much stuff I have. I love hearing people behind me complain and the look on the cashiers face as I unload my stuff is priceless. I simply do not care. On a side note, sometimes I take stuff if don't have enough money. Anyone else do that?

I like scan as you go. Our local Giant is the one on York Road in Towson. My 8-yr-old son likes to help, which is also fun, and he's learning a lot about shopping.

You can change your mind and remove items from your order with a button. It really does seem to save time if you get into one of the designated checkout lanes for those who have prescanned.

It's probably goofy, but one of the reasons I like it is because it's fun in a "gee-whiz" kind of way. It's not like anything else I do all day. I'm easily entertained, I guess.

I agree with Bucky.


...good point about the produce, that is an extra step - the worst part though: At the new Giant the produce section is way too SMALL. Its a huge store, but there is no where to move in the produce section!

I have a friend who works in the produce department at the Bay Ridge Giant in Annapolis. The self scan was installed in his store a few months ago and it FLOPPED. Way to much confusion, no one knew how to weigh vegetables, etc. He told me all kinds of horror stories. I believe the system has since been removed. Maybe Giant will have better success in the York Road store.

Good lord! We had these in our little village in the Cotswolds 10 years ago! The grocery stores over there even let their cashiers sit while they're working.

If they had a check out aisle just to pay - for only the Sacn It people. You still have to stand in line at the end. Which defeats the purpose....

Chris raises a good point. i had fotgotten how the produce and meat and bakery clerks would put a price on the paper sack of whatever right there in the department with their grease pencil.

good times.

philip does this old insurrectionist's heart good. (tho I can't get behind the theft).

Philip, do you also drive solo in the HOV lane?

Although I'd be interested in it, self-scanning seems like a shoplifter's dream. Oops...I must have missed it.

Phillip, I bet you also take your children to nice restaurants. And let your dog run around the park off its leash. Oh, and I bet you put ketchup on hot dogs, too.

I don't think they save much time. It is a novel idea. My kids love it. It does take a bit longer, I think. You have to really think ahead to avoid ending up with a bagged mess. I suppose if you don't like waiting in lines (that would be me when I go shopping with my kids in tow) this is great. It takes longer going through the store, but less time in line.

Having spent years wielding a barcode scanner a library circulation desks, this sounds about as attractive as a root canal. Add that these machines are used by management to justify firing humans, and I just can't bring myself to use them.

I'm with Lissa on this one (even though I never worked the circ. desk).

Apparently, I am in the minority. I LOVE it! For me, it saves tons of time. Since I already bring my own bags with me to the grocery store, I just place them in my bags as I shop. When I get to the checkout, scan the barcode, my order comes up and I'm outta there in 60 seconds.

I'm picky about how I like my stuff bagged (peaches do NOT belong on the bottom of a bag) so I feel like I get everything to go my way.

The only annoying feature about the Giant self-scan is that the thing *dings* at me every few minutes to alert me to some special (sometimes only available to self-scanner patrons) that distracts me from the task at hand which is to get out of the store fast!

I've done whole grocery carts full of produce, frozen etc and never had any issue. As I said, apparently the minority.

i think phillip is just being honest...who hasn't taken a candy bar or a lighter and not paid for it? self checkout? self take the stuff and dont pay is what i say....power to the people

sandy balls, I have never taken anything without paying for it, and I'm sure I'm not alone. You are driving up the bill for the rest of us.

I have been using the scanner at Martins in Eldersburg for over a year. I enjoy using it and it is quite easy to take items off your list. It does save time for me since they have 6 registers to pick from. You also get a running cost total and number of items in your cart. The only problem at first was remembering to scan the product.

I'm surprised we haven't had a post from the UFCW union commenting on the growth of scanners and the impact that (and 20 other supermarket front end practices) is having on their members ability to earn a living.

So... if you are looking for a good reason to just say no to scanners and self checkout and maybe even keep from losing your own job... look for the Union Label.

So, always look for the union label,
it says we're able
to make it in the U.S.A.

...who hasn't taken a candy bar or a lighter and not paid for it?

I haven't.

Learn your lesson from that apple incident?

dahlink -
i figure the stores are always having buy one get one free ..but they don't t do it enough or when i need them to so i go ahead take advantage of their offer before they offer it. simple really and it doens t cost nothing ...anyway, i say get rid of all the checkout liines and machines and just let people walk out with stuff. in a room full of blind people, the man with one eye is king

...who hasn't taken a candy bar or a lighter and not paid for it?

Haven't done that since I was about 13.

My Giant (#158) doesn't have any self-service scanners of any kind. But since I go there specifically to have pleasant conversations with the folks who are checking me out (... ooh, probably shouldn't have said it that way!) I would be disinclined to use any of the scanners. I have even refused the request of a front end manager to drop out of line to go to a newly opened one. Of course it might be tempting during high summer season when I spend less at the grocery store than I do at the farmers market most weeks.

Canon, they are tightening up the laws on stalking and it sounds like you're approaching the line.

Either ask the girl out or maybe start going to Safeway.

just a heads up one guy to another. k? ;)

If this invention can in any way expedite the check out process, I am all in favor of it.

Back in 2003 I lost six months of my life waiting in a checkout line at the Safeway on 25th and Charles. I'll never get that time back, but maybe, just maybe, this invention will prevent another from having to endure my plight.

I don't like the self-checkout at the grocery store or library.

I don't mind self scanning but it never seems to work right and there is ultimately some poor clerk who's job it is to "unbug" the scan lines.

I'm actually somewhat surprised that grocery delivery (order on the net they deliver - like Peapod) hasn't taken off more than it has. That way, you don't even have to go to the store!

I don't use it either. I don't know why...

Joyce, the one time I tried to use a grocery delivery service (Safeway's, since my younger cat loves their litter), I waited around for 5 hours, called, was told my order had been cancelled, no apologies, no offer to reschedule (my cc company flagged the purchase as unusual, called me and I approved it. Safeway rejected it.).

If Peapod is anything like that, I can see why it hasn't taken off.

A library self-check machine costs $40-60k or more, not including the hours and hours and hours of staff time to get the danged things working. And the many more hours of staff time to get them working again, after they break. Even then, they can't handle media (DVDs, etc.) well.

They have had this system at my local Giant for a while. Depending on what I'm there for I do use it. I get to bag things my way and when I am finished I can get in the "12 Items or less" line 'cause I'm only scanning one item. They do occasionally audit and check to see that some number of things have been properly scanned. I haven't noticed any fewer checkout workers, unlike when they put in the self-scan lanes, which I refuse to use. My main complaint is that they have not put one of their scales near the salad bar so you have to walk back the the produce section to weigh your salad fixin's.

Unfortunately my parents raised me to be honest all those years ago so I do not give myself "Five-finger discounts" or advance sales. Someone once said that the true test of a person's character is what they do when they know nobody is looking. Of course these days you can never guarantee that nobody's looking.

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or collaborative content community with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional or disciplinary response[1] or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

Honestly youre all a little too serious re: phillip and sandy balls.

I find that, all too often, people on the net throw around accusations of trolling when something else entirely is going on.

I was assuming that philip and sandy balls were trying to be provocative or ironic, but there are those who will take them at their word. When I was in graduate school my roommate's brother used to lift delicacies at "Pignataro's" (he put the emphasis on the "Pig") when he came over to visit. It put a bad taste in my mouth. This was a guy getting a Ph. D. at Yale.

I used to use the fancy hand-held scanners when the first came out... how exciting! After about the fouth or fifth time of the damned thing either not scanning things, not accepting coupons, the whole produce issue... I dropped it. I would rather wait an extra 5 minutes in line to have a perfectly capable human do the job the correct way.

didnt mean to troll..i am a controversy and people will have to deal but i love elizabeth at large and food in general...but i hate paying for for the scanners, they allow me to take things and don t cause a big stir and have me arrested and stuff

sandy balls you sound like someone i'd like to meet and go shopping with.

I think Phillip and sandy balls are a hoot.

Learn your lesson from that apple incident?

Damned snake.

I love the system, and we use it all the time. Only weird thing - we get audited a LOT. Maybe every third trip, we have someone check our bags to make sure everything has been rung up. Maybe it's our buying patterns...or our shifty demeanor!

Aimed at the Phillips and Sandys of the world, I guess. If they were actually telling the truth, which I doubt. Nobody employing the five-fingered discount would admit it on a blog where they can be easily traced...

on a blog where they can be easily traced...

uh oh.

I love the self-scanning system. It saves a ton of time and I also get audited 1 out of 3 times. We just moved and the Giant near our new house doesn't have the self-scanning yet. I hope it arrives soon!

I have been using the self-scanners in Columbia for awhile. The biggest problem with them is if you get things that don't have bar-codes, like veggies and things like that. You have to go to one of maybe only two special scales in the store to print out bar-codes. Takes forever if you get a lot of different types of veggies.

I'm looking forward to the grocery store "Wanted" posters featuring Philip and sandy balls.

Down here,

Self checkout is brand new, not sure they'd bring in the self scanner things. There are too many Phillips and sandy balls here. Not to mention tourists.

Just thinking about philip and sandy balls' assumption that everyone steals at least once in a while reminded me of the time we stopped at a farm stand on the way home from the beach. When we got home I discovered that there were more ears of corn than we had paid for. The next year I made a point of stopping there and making it right.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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