The human touch versus the super-smart grocery cart
July 12, 2011
According to a report from MSNBC, one of America’s top-tier grocery chains is getting rid of its self-checkout lanes and will replace them with standard or express lanes.
“We just want the opportunity to talk to customers more,” said the spokeswoman for the grocery chain. “That’s the driving motivation.”
Moreover, the nation’s top grocery chain is experimenting with doing away with self-checkout lanes at a store down in Texas. Yet another major grocery chain says it is “on the fence” about eliminating its self-checkout lanes.
Your faithful columnist is not a complete Luddite. I do use a word processor and a Bluetooth device on my cell phone. But those self-checkout lanes always looked like job-killers to me. And, just one more way for technology to make life more sterile.
When invited by store personnel to use a self-checkout lane, I always say “thanks, but no thanks.” For some reason, I happen to enjoy talking with the cashiers, most of whom I know by name and vice-versa.
So, for those who do not like self-checkout lanes, that is the good news. The bad news is that the day may come when almost all of the cashiers in the standard or express lanes will be replaced by grocery store “smart-carts.” That will kill some jobs. But not all.
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The first step will be to place a device in each grocery smart-cart that can access bar-code information. In addition to being issued one of these “smart-carts,” the shopper will be issued a hand-held, bar-code scanner. The shopper picks an item off the shelf, runs the scanner over the label on the item and the smart-cart starts totaling up what the shopper is putting into the cart.
When the shopper is finished shopping, she or he rolls the cart by a cashier who has a scanner to read the data the smart-cart has collected. That causes the computer/cash register to print out a grocery bill that the shopper then pays via cash, check, or credit or debit card. Using that kind of smart-cart, the items are handled only one time, speeding up the entire process.
But wait, there’s more. The next generation of super smart-carts will eliminate almost all the cashiers and check-out lines. First, the shopper establishes an account with the grocery store. Using that account, the store would be pre-authorized to draw on either a bank account or a credit card or a debit card for the payment of whatever the shopper puts in his or her super smart-cart.
The super smart-carts will communicate directly with the store’s central computer. Each item in the store will have a micro radio transmitter in its label that communicates directly with the smart-cart. When the shopper places an item down inside the smart-cart, the nature of the item and its price are transmitted electronically and stored inside the super smart-cart’s on-board computer.
When the shopper has finished shopping, he or she does not go through a check-out lane. Instead, the shopper simply rolls the cart out into the parking lot. At the moment the smart-cart goes through the door to the outside, the central computer finalizes the grocery bill and the amount of the grocery bill is deducted from whatever payment method has already been established by the shopper.
Granted, some busy people will see the super smart-cart as a great time-saving convenience and will go through the process of establishing the necessary account with the grocery store. Others, for financial reasons, might not be able to do that. We can also assume semi-Luddites such as I will not do so and insist on going through check-out lanes and talking with the cashiers.
Of course, except for having to tip the delivery person, it might just be simpler to pick up the phone and order pizza.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.