Could the iPhone Help You Check Out Faster in Supermarkets?

An article in Mashable caught my attention this weekend. It says “Your phone could soon liberate you from supermarket lines.” It discusses a US company working on a system where you can scan groceries with an iPhone.

The Mashable article says:

At this weekend’s National Retail Foundation’s “Big Show” in New York, Diebold, which produces self-service finance products, will introduce what it’s dubbed a “contact-less self-checkout concept.”

The concept, per a Diebold press release, will allow grocery store customers to skip the check-out lines and instead scan items with their phones as soon as they stuff them into their cart.

Meh. I already do it all the time. Granted, not with an iPhone, but with a handheld scanner in my supermarket.

Is this really not a thing in the US? I think all the major UK supermarket chains do this. We often shop at Waitrose, and use their Quick Check. It’s a handheld scanner that lets you keep a running tally of how much you’ve spent, alerts you to special multi-buy offers, and then lets you check out quickly and easily. It’s very practical, and saves a lot of time.

You have to first link your credit or debit card to your store card, but once you’ve done that, you just swipe your card at the entrance to the store and take the scanner whose light flashes. And they are quite popular; whenever we go shopping, probably 10% of shoppers use them.

Waitrose handset

I find this paragraph of the Mashable article interesting:

That’s not to say that the product doesn’t come with potential problems: namely, how retailers will regulate that the concept, which is essentially rooted in the honor system that customers will scan each item they’re purchasing on their own, to prevent against theft.

Really? It’s as if Diebold, in the US, hasn’t seen how this system is used in other countries. At Waitrose, you get manually rescanned roughly once for every ten times you shop. (In other words, a store employee manually scans everything you’ve bought to check for errors.) My partner, who does most of the shopping, has noted that she gets rescanned more often when she’s visiting her mother, in a different part of the country; perhaps because it’s a different address. And she did some shopping the other day, when we had guests, and was manually rescanned, most likely because she bought items that different than usual.

Again, from the Mashable article:

And the product isn’t yet complete — Harris says that the technology is still in the concept stage. “Should we find that this experience has value to retailers and consumers alike, we will search for pilot customers to help us validate our assumptions in market,” Harris says.

It’s very odd that it’s just “in the concept stage.” Sure, using an iPhone is a bit different, but the logistics are the same as using a dedicated scanner. I find it odd that this isn’t used in the US, and that it seems like such a big deal to work out the kinks. It’s been used in the UK for years, and before I left France, about three years ago, at least one major supermarket had already started using a similar system.