Nancy Lafreniere has never worked in a supermarket but she can ring up groceries faster than the most seasoned cashier. Her edge: a wireless computer on the front of her shopping cart at the Super Stop & Shop in the Boston suburb where she lives.
Ms. Lafreniere uses a hand-held bar-code reader called the “Shopping Buddy” to scan all of the groceries herself as she walks through the aisles. The computer keeps a running tally of her purchases, and since it knows her shopping habits, it also can offer appropriate instant discount coupons for items right on the aisle she’s cruising. All Ms. Lafrieniere does at the checkout counter is pay and go.
Across the country, a small but growing number of supermarkets are testing a variety of high-tech gadgets designed to change the way people shop and the way stores promote their products. The technology goes way beyond the last wave of innovations such as self-checkout kiosks, which basically automate the familiar checkout process.
Starting in July, customers at four Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. stores in Charleston and Columbia, S.C., will be able to pay for their groceries by placing their finger on a scanner at checkout, eliminating the need for cash, checks or credit cards. The 123-store chain is testing technology by Pay By Touch, a consumer-payment service, that links shoppers’ credit cards or bank accounts with a digital image of their finger. The scanner doesn’t store actual fingerprints, but takes a set of images and then encrypts that data to create a digital identity. To use the new technology, customers must first create an account with the store by scanning their finger, entering an access code and providing a loyalty card, credit card or bank-account information.