- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

Hand-held scanners in grocery stores may become more common as the devices become more high tech.

The devices allow shoppers to scan products as they take them off the shelves and place them directly in bags in the cart. If they put an item back on the shelf, they can re-scan it to remove it from the bill. When done shopping, the customer goes to the checkout, and the cashier scans the device. The customer pays and leaves, vastly speeding up the checkout process.

The scanners may become more widespread, as Motorola Inc. has just introduced an updated version that is more in line with retailers’ back-of-the-store technology, the company said.

Bloom — which is Food Lion’s high-end chain of grocery stores — is testing the earlier versions of the devices in about 14 of its 40 Washington-area stores.

Giant Food Stores in Carlisle, Pa. — sister company of Giant Food in Landover, which operates the Washington-area stores — uses the early version of the products in 11 of its stores and seven of the Martin’s Food Markets it owns in Maryland.

“We’ve seen a great deal of interest, from the retail segment, in the ability to create a more loyal following among their customers,” said Sheldon Safir, director of product marketing for global products at Motorola.

The updated version of the MC17 allows shoppers to locate a product by punching it into the device, compare prices on different products or scan coupons. Grocers also can use the devices to offer coupons based on what the shopper has bought previously. If the customer has used the devices before, or used the chain’s loyalty cards, all of his or her previous purchases are stored.

“One of the capabilities it offers is to say ‘OK, based on what you’ve just scanned, you’re in aisle 10, cereal is at one end and salad dressing is at the other.’ Now it pops up with a promotion on the salad dressing you use,” Mr. Safir said.

The early versions of the product have gained more traction in Europe than in North America, he said. He expects the updated version to be more popular with American retailers because the products are in line with retailers’ back-end technology. Store employees can use the devices to check inventory or check prices, making it more useful to grocers.

Retailers who use the devices say the early versions have become popular with customers.

“Customers love it for its convenience and the fact that they can keep a running tally of how much they’re spending,” said Tracy Pawelski, spokeswoman for Giant Food Stores in Carlisle. “It shows if you have what we call ‘Bonus Buy’ savings.”

Giant-Carlisle began testing the products in late 2005.

Bloom and Giant-Carlisle randomly check customers’ bags to ensure that the scanner and the products in the cart are the same. Neither report substantial problems with customers stealing or inadvertently not scanning goods.

Bloom began testing the device in the Washington area — including stores in Rockville, Fairfax, Chantilly, Herndon, Leesburg, Va., and Stafford, Va. — when it first opened its local stores about a year ago.

“There’s a broad range of people who use the scanners,” said spokeswoman Karen Peterson. “It just depends on the type of shopping experience guests are interested in. Some people are not as interested in technology or the convenience that the scanners offer our shoppers.”

The latest version of the scanners run $995 each, but grocers typically offer the service to customers for free.

Spokesmen for Safeway and the Washington area’s Giant Food chain said their chains are not using the hand-held devices.

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