Smart Wireless Checkout Running Into Speedbump

Written by Evan Schuman
January 25th, 2008

A wireless item-level checkout device being trialed by regional grocery chain Stop & Shop is demonstrating the potential—and simultaneously the difficulties–of distributed checkout.

The 389-store grocery chain—employing about 59,000 in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey—has been running this trial since October at 90 of its stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The device being investigated is from Modiv Media and is called the Modiv Shopper by the vendor and the EasyShop by the retailer. It’s the next generation of the Shopping Buddy and it works similarly, in that consumers slide their loyalty card at a kiosk, which issues them a wireless device that sits in their carts.

As they move through the store, the device sends them commercials based on their purchase history as well as what they have scanned into their cart—the device does that scanning—plus their exact location in the store at that moment.

The device has no touchscreen and very limited buttons, but it can receive a signal from other systems, such as Stop & Shop’s automated deli system. The device, for example, can display a message when a deli order is ready for pickup.

Perhaps the most intriguing of its capabilities is how it can interact with self-checkout—or a regular staffed checkout aisle—and save the time of having to rescan everything in.

Stop & Shop has a different program called Payvantage, which keeps on record a preferred payment method. This theoretically should allow for consumers to checkout of the store the instant after they scan their last purchase, from wherever in the store they happen to be standing at the time. With a wireless device that has scanned all of their purchases—and a payment method already approved—why force customers to push their groceries to the self-checkout—or any other POS station—and wait in the line? Or the customer could simply go to a less crowded area of the store for help with bagging their purchases.

Modiv CEO Bob Wesley said other retailers have said they would indeed be interested in a complete wireless checkout. He didn’t comment on Stop & Shop but a Stop & Shop spokesman said the chaIn–at this time–wasn’t using that capability and referred questions about it to Modiv.

Asked why retailers were not doing it, Wesley said that it was a change in consumer behavior, which consumers tend to resist, especially when the overall experience is already quite alien to them.

That’s true to a point, but this process wouldn’t be asking the consumer to do anything uncomfortable, especially leave the store much more quickly.

The true answer seems to lie with the security mechanism. When a consumer needs to check out, they are asked to swipe their loyalty card again to verify that they are who they said they were. But why seek that, given that the card was already swiped when the unit was picked up? Is the fear that a consumer could have the unit stolen from them while shopping, which would then allow the thief to make as many purchases as they wanted for free? Wesley wouldn’t say, only indicating that there was an unspecified technology issue involving database lookups that required consumers to go to a POS and re-swipe their cards.

The earlier version of the unit was a touchscreen and it allowed those deli orders to be placed from within the cart. But consumer preferences for a smaller unit with fewer buttons and options killed that convenience.

Stop & Shop isn’t alone in these kinds of experiments, with fellow regional grocer ShopRite experimenting with similar devices.

The Stop & Shop trial is certainly an encouraging move in the right direction, but it’s clear that consumer hesitation and security concerns will make this wireless in-store dance one of "two steps forward, one step back."


4 Comments | Read Smart Wireless Checkout Running Into Speedbump

  1. Allison Says:

    I have personally used the Stop & Shop wireless. 2 comments re:above
    — one of the advantages of the handheld scanner is that you bag as you go, so it wouldn’t make sense to go to a less busy area to bag the groceries.
    — my default method of paying is by debit. I have no interest in seeing any ‘auto checkout’ with the scanner – that would simply be one more technology to worry about in terms of potential loss.

    So those are reasons, as a user, that I think Stop and Shop made the right call.

    I believe they also had another reason, which is buried in their directions – they reserve the right to do spot audits… if people are going through the same registers (and, by the way, the scanner is accepted at the self service lanes) there is at least the perception that you could get pulled over

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    Editor’s Note: Those are very valid points. But on the spot audits, that could simply have that done at the exits, if they wanted.

  3. Chris Kapsambelis Says:

    I too have used the Stop & Shop handheld scanner to scan, bag as you go. I found two problems:
    1. The plastic bags are impossible to open with one hand (the other hand is holding the scanner). You could put the scanner down, but there was no place on the cart that could safely and conveniently hold it. Fortunately my wife was with me and she held it. The only way I could open the bag was to bring the opening up to my lips and blow it open.
    2. While holding the scanner with one hand, bagging with the other is very difficult except for small items.

    Stop & Shop will need to equip their carts with a bag opening mechanism, as they have at the checkout counter, and make a convenient spot to holster the scanner when not in use.

  4. rita rose Says:

    I have a problem with the entire scanning issue especially when used in the self check out — I feel if someone wants to slip in an expensive bag of shrimp or filet mignon they are likely to not get caught. If these scanners allow people to do selective shoplifting — profits will be affected. We ALL will have to eventually pay for this little experiment. People will figure out a way to slip in a little something to reward themselves! I dislike the idea immensely.


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