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  1. Technology
July 26, 1994

DO-IT-YOURSELF SUPERMARKET CHECKOUTS IN THE OFFING COURTESY OF SYMBOL TECHNOLOGY AND A HAND-HELD SCANNER

By CBR Staff Writer

Bohemia, New York-based Symbol Technologies Inc is set to revolutionise the way we shop, or so it says, and its all down to hand held scanners that will be piloted in a major supermarket chain from September of this year. Frequent customers presumably with fat wallets will be issued with a plastic loyalty card. Customers put the card in a slot which reads the bar code on it and then releases a hand held scanner. Shoppers can then scan products they want to buy. If they change their minds they can cancel purchases by scanning the item again and clicking a minus button on the scanner. The scanner has a running tabulation feature so shoppers can keep track of how much they have spent. When customers have finished shopping they return the scanner to the dispenser system where a receipt with a bar code is printed.

Random sampling of shoppers’ baskets

This ticket is then scanned at the check out and goods are paid for. Gordon Ambidge, vice-president and managing director of Symbol UK, says that by mid next year scanners will be linked up to an electronic funds transfer system. Shoppers can then swipe their credit card through the scanner and pay for goods without going to a check out. Symbol believes that self scanning will eliminate the sweethearting element of shopping – Symbol says a major revenue loss is through check out operators who purposefully do not scan half of their friends’ shopping and therefore dramatically reduce their bills. Obviously self scanning will eliminate this element. Symbol says self scanning will not increase store theft because random sampling of shoppers’ baskets will be carried out on a regular basis; some of us remain sceptical about the effectiveness of this technique. But according to Frank Lenselink, manager for distributor operations at Symbol UK, pilots carried out at Albert Hejinm, a large grocery chain in the Netherlands that now uses self scanners, show that customers who use self scanners are the most honest shoppers mainly because they know their goods may be randomly checked and this deters them from thieving. He also maintains that shoppers intending to pilfer stock will do so, with or without self scanners. However, from an economic perspective it is cheaper to lose a certain amount of stock than to employ a team of check out operators to scan goods manually. The self scanning system is also relatively cheap to purchase and install. The UK pilot programme will cost roughly ?100,000 that includes 100 scanners. Although lower profile, Symbol has also won a contract with Somerfield, formerly Gateway, to supply 300 Somerfield stores with laser radio terminals during 1994. The order was confirmed following an initial pilot of narrow band radio terminals at its Bridgend, Mid-Glamorgan, store where two LRT 3820 terminals were installed in October 1993. According to the company, the laser radio terminals combine bar code laser scanning with, 16-bit computing and a high performance narrow band radio frequency data communications. Using this product operators can scan bar coded products and via the laser radio terminal radio link to the in-store point-of-sale processor, they can check prices on the shelves with those being charged at the checkout. According to Symbol, the LRT 3820 eliminates the need for time consuming reference to remote storage files to check price data and the problems caused by out of date information.

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