3.23.2009

Saving Time When Buying Groceries

I encountered an interesting use of technology at my local supermarket recently. What I liked about it, from a lean perspective, is that it eliminated some waste from the process of shopping.

The introduction of bar codes and scanners (which I believe was 30 or 40 years ago) speeded up shopping tremendously. In the past few years, many supermarkets (and other stores) have added self-service checkout lanes, where you scan the items yourself rather than hand them to a cashier. I find that convenient when I have just a few items, though I doubt it makes much difference in how long the process takes.

But at our local Stop & Shop in New Jersey, my wife and I encountered something that was new to us (though I understand this has been in place for a while in other parts of the world).

Upon entering the supermarket, we were offered an easy-to-use handheld scanner. (You have to have one of the store’s bar-coded frequent shopper tags to get one. Your tag is scanned, and you receive the scanner.) As we walked through the aisles of the store, we scanned each item we selected, then placed it directly into a bag in our shopping cart. (You can bring your own reusable bags, as we do, or obtain plastic bags from the store.)

If you change your mind about buying something, the handheld unit has a “remove” button to take it off your list.

For fruits and vegetables, we went to a special station in the produce section. We placed each bag of produce on a scale, and typed in either its name or number code. The scale printed a bar-coded label for the amount we were buying, which we then scanned with the handheld unit.

At checkout, with our groceries already in bags, we handed the scanner to the cashier, who then scanned our frequent-shopper tag again, along with any coupons we had. The total was displayed, we paid, and the register printed out a receipt listing every item we had purchased. Checkout took little more than a minute.

The biggest time savings occurs because you place your groceries directly into bags, rather than having to place them in the wagon, unload them at checkout and then put them in bags. A little additional time is required to scan each item, but I believe the time saved more than makes up for this.

It’s a win-win situation. The customer completes shopping in less time, and the store can process more customers through checkout.

Has anyone else had experience with this? What do you think?

2 comments:

Dwane Lay said...

So, what is their control mechanism to ensure honest? (I know, the idea of a check for that is waste, but in many cases less waste than what walks out the door.)

With self-service, at least the ones I've seen, they test on product weight. Each item in the system either has a pre-determined weight or is a by-weight product. Either way, your items have an expected weight load, measured against actual weight.

So, does this system have such a feature? Maybe a scale that measure the total weight and subtract that of the cart? Or is it an exercise in honesty? (How refreshing that would be!)

elserieke said...

Hilarious story if you do your groceries in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Here you first need to seal your bag at a security officer at the enterance. Then shopping itself is the normal procedure, except that there is an extra line before the different employees weighing your bread, vegetables, fish and/or meat.

You unload your wagon at the cassiere and she scans, transfers and also puts the deliveries in bags. Defenitely a bottleneck..

Then you can pay in cash or with a card. A card sounds fast, but it isn't, because it requires about 15 non-standard tasks. Checking documents, signing, re-signing and filling in forms. Cash isn't any better, because of the shortage of coins in Argentina. A cassiere never has more then 1 peso change in the registrer. For almost every customer the supervisor has to come to change a 2 peso note.

There are a few other remarkable sub-processes that make you smile, if you're not in a hurry, but I have to do my groceries and only have 2 hours left.

Thank you for your story. It makes me realize again that can be different.

Rienk