While supermarket cashiers are not about to land on the endangered species list any time soon, self-scanning technology is quickly emerging as a viable option for solving a number of vexing, and complex, retail challenges.
Another key issue is the growing business demand for retailers to find viable, cost-effective means to speed shoppers through the checkout process -- especially during the busiest times of day -- and in the process do an even better job serving increasingly time-pressured consumers.
Self-scanning technology -- both stationary self-checkout systems and portable devices used to scan products in the aisles -- are playing an increasingly large and vital role in addressing these issues.
The costs for self-checkout systems have decreased in recent years, at the same time as consumers have shown a greater familiarity and comfort with using this type of "do-it-yourself" technology, retailers told SN.
Two of the nation's largest retailers -- Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla. -- have moved from initial testing to wider, though still limited, rollouts of stationary self-scanning technology. A&P, Montvale, N.J., also is exploring expanded use of self-scanning technology.
"The self-checkout units are helping us deal with a severe labor shortage -- a challenge that all retailers are facing," said Paul Bernish, spokesman for Kroger, in an interview earlier this year.
Retailers told SN they are looking to link their self-scanning technology more closely to their overall front-end systems, allowing easier integration of electronic payment systems and frequent-shopper programs. More use of open systems in the supermarket is making such integration possible.
"Self-scanning units are built around ease of use, to make the checkout experience more convenient," said Bob Drury, vice president of management information systems at Schnuck Markets, in an interview earlier this year. "The beauty of open systems is it lets you bolt different vendor pieces, like self-checkout units, to add flexibility."
Large and small retailers alike are also testing portable self-scanning technology. They include H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio; Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, and the Calgary Cooperative Association, Calgary, Alberta.
The technology itself is being improved, according to retailers. Interactive touch screen monitors with a graphic user interface can guide customers through the self-checkout process, as are systems offering full-color product images for easier produce identification and marketing purposes.
Portable self-scanning technology already allows customers to keep a running total of their orders while in the aisles.
Broader use of radio frequency technology throughout the store could allow retailers to expand these units' marketing capabilities, with shelf-mounted RF tags promoting specific products as the customer passes by with the hand-held device.