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Bag the Grocery Wand

020.jpg     You're looking at the new face of grocery shopping.  Well, one of them anyway.  Certainly there have always been small improvements in the shopping experience as the years have gone by.  First at some point there was air conditioning where there hadn't been, then plastic bags (easy to use even though bad for the environment), and at some point self-check-out dropped into our lives.  This is where the device pictured at the left comes into the picture.

     This weekend I had an opportunity to use one of these magic digital wands to do my grocery shopping.  Like the geek that I am, this was a fun idea ... if only because I got to play with a new electronic toy.  But it made me want to evaluate its value at the same time.  Sure it's cool, but is it necessary?

     Here's how the system works.  When you enter the store you have the option to use this device.  You swipe your customer ID card and one of these gizmos on a wall of gizmos lights up.  This is now YOURS, to take hold of a walk away (inside the store of course.)  It's like getting a free iPhone... sort of.  As you move through the store and put things into your cart, you read the product bar codes and the device totals them up.  Assuming that time savings is the goal here, it helps to bring bags with you as you shop so you can bag groceries at the same time.

     Then when you arrive at any check out, you scan the "I'm done" bar code at any of the stations, then swipe your ID card again and the data is transferred into the payment machine and you proceed to pay for the food as you normally would.  Assuming this goes quickly and you bagged everything as you went, you can now leave.

     Pretty nifty.  But does it save time overall?

     Certainly if you don't bag the groceries as you go, I don't think this saves any time at all.  Shopping seems to take a little longer than it used to in fact, since you have to scan and bag everything in the isles (which if they are crowded causes more congestion.)  It might shorten lines at the check-out just as the pay-ahead-of-time parking systems at airports shorten the time waiting to get out of a garage.  But how much quicker is this?

     And tonight, the second time I used the system I noticed another by-product ... noise pollution.  Every so often the device points out a sale happening somewhere in the store.  At the moment of the notification the wand emits a fairly loud "ka-ching" sound.  The couple of times mine did that, several people turned and stared (which is not usually what I want to have happen at the grocery.)  Also, everytime you scan an item there is a beep to confirm that the bar code has been read correctly.  Tonight, between the "beeps" and "ka-chings" there was clearly more noise in the air ... not to mention a few odd stares.

     Plus ... tonight, thanks to operator error (I forgot to bag as I went) it seemed to take even longer then it would otherwise.  So, the jury's still out on this new shopping wonder.  I will point out one very helpful thing about the new and improved system (and this is almost worth the noise and isle-bagging congestion.)  With a grocery cart filled to the brim with bagged stuff, you can now go through the self-service isles because check out literally takes a minute at the most.  So you get more check-out options and you get to hold a high-tech wand for an hour.  Ka-Ching!

     Now what about those grocery bagger jobs?