When Ben Trentelman goes shopping at his neighborhood supermarket, there’s something new in the routine: His 8-year-old daughter, Alice, is running the show.
“I put her in charge of the scanner,” said Trentelman, who lives in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood. “She’s getting a really solid idea of the true cost of the food at our house. … We’ve talked about those things, [but] we were presented with this really awesome tool that helped her grasp that.”
That tool is a handheld grocery scanner, now in use at four Smith’s Food and Drug stores in the Salt Lake Valley — including the Rose Park location.
“It’s pretty convenient and straightforward,” Trentelman said of the scanning system, called Scan, Bag, Go, and being rolled out slowly nationwide by Smith’s parent company, Kroger.
“One thing retailers are really, really good at is putting their ear to the ground to hear what their customers are saying,” said David Davis, president of the Utah Food Industry Association. Kroger’s new scanner system, he said, “gives the consumer more and more control on the whole shopping experience.”
Smith’s new program also is in place in its Avenues store in Salt Lake City, and one store each in Ogden and Orem. Next up are locations in West Jordan and Syracuse in May. By the end of the year, 32 Smith’s locations in seven states will offer the handheld scanners, said Adrian Ortega, who is overseeing the program’s rollout for Smith’s.
It’s a trend being seen in other stores. Associated Food Stores has an app, Skip Checkout, that lets shoppers scan barcodes with the camera on their smartphones. The system is being deployed at several Utah stores, including Maceys, Davis said. (Smith’s has its own app for shoppers who want to use their own smartphone instead of the handheld units.)
Aubriana Martindale, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Smith’s division, called the handheld scanners and smartphone app ways to give customers “a personalized shopping experience. … They want different options at checkout. In turn, we gain their loyalty by serving those needs.”
Some customers in Rose Park say they like the new scanners.
“For me, it’s worth it because I’m bagging it myself,” said Emily Fischio, a stay-at-home mom in Rose Park. “Before, I’d get really upset. They packed in a little watermelon with my yogurt, and I’ve had a yogurt smushed.”
Trentelman, operations director of the Utah Afterschool Network, said he’s “able to move through the store more quickly.”
There have been concerns in Rose Park, which Trentelman describes as “a blue-collar community,” about the future of the store’s employees. People posting on the Rose Park Community Facebook page are worried the new scanners, and the added self-checkout kiosks, will mean cashiers will lose their jobs.
In a letter to the editor published in March in The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City resident Brandi Chase lamented the technological change. “By steadily replacing human interaction with AI interfaces, we render more and more human beings irrelevant,” Chase wrote.
The notion that the new technology will drive out workers is a “misperception,” said Martindale, who pointed out a “now hiring” poster on display at checkout.
Another tech-driven industry trend, online shopping — now being offered at Smith’s, Harmons, Whole Foods, Walmart and other outlets — is creating a need for more employees, she noted.
In the past, Martindale said, a rush of customers at the checkout lines meant pulling managers from other departments, such as produce or the bakery, to work as cashiers. “Now we’re allowing them to focus on their prime roles and responsibilities, without calling on them as relief help,” she said.
Also, Martindale noted, customers who prefer interaction with a human cashier can still have that, if they’re willing to stand in line.
Another concern is shoplifting, either deliberate or inadvertent. Ortega said attendants at checkout won’t check bags — the way employees do at, say, Costco — but will monitor customers’ purchases unobtrusively, a task made easier by the clear plastic bags the store provides.
“We trust our customers,” Ortega added. “I would say 99.9 percent of our customers are completely honest.”
Smith’s is offering incentives to entice shoppers to try the handheld scanners. The chain is promising to station employees at the self-checkout kiosks and the produce department to help first-time users. And shoppers in the store’s loyalty program who spend at least $35 will get $5 off their purchase the first three times they use the scanners.
Smith’s is among the first divisions among Kroger’s stores in 35 states to test the Scan, Bag, Go system. “Our customers are pretty honest with their feedback here with the Smith’s division,” Martindale said. “We’re usually one of the first divisions to pilot services.”
So far, Ortega said, feedback has been positive.
“They’re actually associating the word ‘fun’ with shopping again,” he said.
FAQ: How do handheld scanners work?
How do I start?
Pick up a handheld device as you enter the store. Scan your loyalty card or punch in the alternate ID. Also grab some clear plastic bags, or bring reusable bags from home. Most carts have a holster to hold the device.
I’m in the grocery aisle. Now what?
Take nearly any item, point the device at the UPC barcode (or the barcode on the label on the shelf) and press the “scan” button. The price will appear on the screen, along with a running total of your purchases (plus sales tax). Put the item in one of the shopping bags.
Oops, I scanned the wrong thing. How do I cancel it?
Press the “remove” button, scan the barcode again and put the item back on the shelf.
What if there’s no price label on the shelf?
The device has a “price check” button. Press it, scan an item’s barcode, and the screen will display the price — and ask whether you want to buy it.
What about produce?
Pick a fruit or vegetable, scan the barcode on the signage by that item and put it in your cart. Then go to one of the specially marked scales in the produce department, scan the barcode there and weigh the item. The price is automatically calculated and added to the tally. You can scan several items at once; just remember to weigh them in the order you scanned them.
What if I’m buying beer?
Alcohol or tobacco, or any item that has an age restriction, goes through the same procedure as with any grocery item, except that the attendant at checkout will ask for your ID. If you buy anything with an anti-shoplifting tag, like razor blades or over-the-counter medications, the attendant will run the tag over a magnetic strip so it doesn’t set off the alarms at the exit.
What if I have coupons?
Paper coupons can be scanned as usual. The device can also load electronic coupons linked to your loyalty card, so the coupons will match items you buy regularly.
OK, I’ve got all my groceries. Now what?
Go to the self-serve checkout kiosks. Scan one last barcode, which will link up the handheld device to the checkout kiosk. After a few seconds, the tally will show up on the kiosk’s screen, and you pay your cash or insert your credit card like always. Put the handheld in the rack at the end of the self-serve kiosks, and you’re done.