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Check Out the Future of Shopping

Shaving Time Off the Weekly Grocery Run To Keep Consumers in Stores and Spending

Retailers have begun rolling out a raft of new checkout gadgets designed to speed up and improve customer service. From Home Depot to Starbucks, new options are emerging for the ways to pay for wrenches and lattes. Jason Bellini reports.
A device that looks like a smartphone is making supermarket shoppers—and stores—happier. Perched on the handle of the shopping cart, it scans grocery items as the customer adds them to the cart.


Shoppers like it because it helps avoid an interminable wait at the cashier. Retailers like it because the device encourages shoppers to buy more.
With Scan It, a system in 250 Giant and Stop Shop stores in the Northeast, people carry a scanning gadget with them through the store as they shop. Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
Patty Emery picks up her scanner at the front of a West Caldwell, N.J., Stop Shop before starting her weekly grocery shopping. Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
The device keeps a running tally of items and prices and offers strategically timed coupons. Ms. Emery got a discount on creamer after scanning coffee. Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
Stores have been under siege in recent years, not just from the rise of online shopping but also from the way mobile phones empower people to compare their store's prices, item by item, with a rival store nearby. Now, stores are fighting back with their own mobile technology.


Shoppers who use the Scan It system spend about 10% more than the average customer, says Erik Keptner, Ahold's senior vice president for marketing and consumer insights. He attributes this to targeted coupons and the control consumers feel while using the Scan It (actually, Ahold calls it "ScanIt!") device.
Nordstrom is issuing mobile devices that workers on the sales floor can use to scour the company's inventory for a garment in a size a customer is requesting. The shopper pays on the spot, with no need to locate and wait at a cash register.
Home Depot, encouraged by strong customer and worker feedback during a trial in the fall, outfitted each of its approximately 2,000 U.S. stores with contraptions called First Phones. The tricked-out, Wi-Fi-enabled phones work as inventory trackers, walkie-talkies and cash registers.
Scan-as-you-go mobile devices are a logical next step after the self-checkout lanes that are now common in big food and drug chain stores. When finished selecting items, Scan It shoppers either go to a self-checkout station to upload their bill and pay, or hand the device over to a cashier—options that could, of Ahold says dedicated self-checkout stations for Scan It users are becoming more common as the devices become more popular. In such cases, wait time, if any, would be short because customers have already done the time-consuming chore of scanning and packing up groceries.
If shoppers scan an unwanted item by accident, they simply select "Remove" from the menu option, scan the item again, and it is removed from the cart. The total is updated.
Patrick Bearden, a salesman at a Home Depot in Dallas, used a First Phone to rescue several sales on a recent Saturday. A customer needed six seat cushions for an outdoor dining set; the store had only three. In the past, Mr. Bearden would have had to walk to the front of the store and look up available inventory on a personal computer. But using the First Phone device, he knew within a few seconds that the cushions were in stock at a nearby Home Depot. He told the store to hold the items until the customer arrived.
Retail experts predict the new retail gizmos could eventually bring about the end of traditional cash registers.
Retail experts predict that before long most of these mobile shopping gadgets will be supplanted by customers' own smartphones. Ahold is testing a way for customers to download Scan It software directly into their own iPhones and is exploring ways for customers to use smartphones to pay. Starbucks is already taking steps toward a digital-wallet model. Sam Stovall, a Dallas computer software consultant, into the Starbucks app on his iPhone. Each morning, after placing his order, he calls up the bar code on his phone and flashes it in front of a scanner. A second later his phone tells him how much is left on his card. "If it was up to me, I would pay for everything with my phone," Mr. Stovall says.


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