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Kroger offering a shopping world with handheld scanners and fewer cashiers
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Judy Walden, a manager at Kroger, holds a scanning device Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, at the Jesse Jewell Parkway location in Gainesville. The Scan, Bag, Go system is a new way to check out at Kroger and has been in place at the Jesse Jewell location for a couple months now. Shoppers scan the items they wish to purchase as they pick them from the shelves. - photo by Scott Rogers

After spending 25 years as an elementary school teacher, Judy Walden is used to efficiency. That’s what her days were all about — getting things in order, corralling children and finding the best way to help them finish their tasks.

So now, when Walden goes shopping, efficiency is again what it’s all about. That’s why at Kroger, she opts for the Scan, Bag, Go option.

“I love it,” said Walden, now the front end manager at Kroger’s Jesse Jewell location in Gainesville. “It is my way to shop.”

The new method of shopping, which allows shoppers to go around the store and scan items as they put them in their cart instead of scanning them in the checkout line, has been in place for the summer at the Jesse Jewell location in Gainesville. It hasn’t made it to the Thompson Bridge location.

“It's just another option,” Walden said. “I think it was created just to give people another option.”

The new process at Kroger came a couple years after Amazon’s human-interaction-free Amazon Go store, which allows shoppers to shop without ever talking to another person or even standing in a line. Sensors detect what you take off the shelves and sends a bill to your Amazon account for the items not replaced.

Both cashier-free methods of payment follow on the self-checkout model, the earliest examples of which date back to the 1990s.

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Kroger front end manager Judy Walden demonstrates how to use the new Scan, Bag, Go system Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Amazon’s entrance into the grocery market might have pushed others like The Kroger Co. to roll out these new systems, trying to keep up with the demand for automation while shopping for groceries.

On average, 2-2.5% of the Kroger Marketplace on Jesse Jewell Parkway’s daily transactions are processed through Scan, Bag, Go. It may not sound like a lot, but that percentage has been growing since Scan, Bag, Go was installed at Kroger Marketplace.

On Sunday, Aug. 25, there were 3,782 transactions — each representing a single person — and 90 of those were people using Scan, Bag, Go.

It’s pretty simple: Shoppers bring in their own bags or use the grocery bags provided at the store, pick up a scanner from the stand at the front, scan your Kroger card or type in your alternate ID, then start shopping. For normal items stocked on shelves, it’s as easy as picking the item up, pointing the scanner at the barcode and pressing the scan button. The item and its price then show up on the scanner, and assuming everything looks correct, you can move on to your next item.

The scanner keeps a running total of all your items, so you’re able to see an estimate of your charges. It will also alert you when there’s a digital coupon you could be using.

When it comes to items that need to be weighed, things are a little different. Shoppers need to pick their items, scan the barcode on the shelf next to the price and then go to a Scan, Bag, Go scale nearby and scan the barcode there. Then they’ll be instructed to weigh the item.

Here’s a tip: Walden said to gather all your produce while scanning each barcode and then weigh it all at once. When you scan the barcode at the scale, your handheld scanner will go through each item you’ve scanned that needs to be weighed.

“When I first tried, I was like, ‘I'm not sure about this,’” Walden said. “But because of the convenience of using my own bags and bagging the way I want to as I shop, I would rather use this than self-checkout. I love the fact that I can just go through and I’m zapping it.”

Again, it’s all about efficiency for Walden. When she started thinking about it, she said the items she would buy were touched too many times, which slowed down her shopping trip.

“I love the fact that I pick it up, I scan it, I drop it in the bag and I don't touch it again until I get home,” Walden said.

Scan, Bag, Go is just another way of shopping, and it's done better than Walden ever thought it would. Even when things don't go right — the handheld scanners can sometimes freeze up or the battery could die — there’s an easy solution. Transferring what a shopper has scanned is as simple as scanning the shopper’s card on another scanner.

It’s mostly the 25- to 45-year-old shoppers using Scan, Bag, Go and most of the time it’s women.

“It's people that have enough contact with technology this doesn't scare them or bother them,” Walden said.

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Kroger front end manager Judy Walden thinks human cashiers aren't going anywhere any time soon, even as Kroger and other grocery chains adopt more cashier-less methods of checking out. - photo by Scott Rogers

The biggest question about Scan, Bag, Go was that it seemed like it’d be an easier avenue for thieves to shop without scanning all of their items. While that could happen, Walden hasn’t run into any problems yet and said ultimately, the scanner isn’t the problem.

“This does not create thieves,” Walden said, holding up one of the handheld scanners. “If you are going to come in and steal using this, you were already stealing ... this is not going to make you steal.”

But just in case shoppers do try to take advantage, each scanner is set up for a random order verification every few transactions. After scanning the barcode at the self-checkout line — each customer has to do this in order to pay — an alert will be sent through the scanner, requiring an attendant to check your cart. The attendant will scan a few random items and make sure it matches what is on the scanner.

And just in case you’re worried that this means the end of the cashier, Walden said not to worry. Shoppers were upset when the store cut a couple regular cashier lines and added more self-checkout stations, so she believes all options will remain at some level.

“I don't ever see there not being a cashier,” Walden said.

So, next time you’re in Kroger, give Scan, Bag, Go a shot. It’s a new option that Walden has enjoyed and could see more people enjoying if they’re willing to try.

“I've been surprised at how much I like it,” Walden said. “Most people that have used it a couple of times, they're sold.”

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Kroger is adopting a new mobile scan and payment system that lets shoppers skip lines — and cashiers — at the store. - photo by Scott Rogers