Scan It Yourself

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Here's one job teenagers will still fill in the future: grocery bagger. Only one-third of Americans say they are more likely to shop at a store that offers self-checkout. Just 6 percent indicate that they like to bag items themselves, according to a national survey of consumers' acceptance of retail technology.

The study, conducted by KPMG and the Indiana University Center for Education and Research in Retailing, looks at how new technology can help bricks-and-mortar stores compete with the growing presence of online retailers. Consumers were asked their opinions of 11 technologies, eight used in the store, three online. Each is available today, and some, such as self-scanners and kiosks, are already used in the marketplace.

What resonates with consumers? Roughly 63 percent say they are more likely to shop at stores that have product information and ordering kiosks - no more hunting down sales clerks who might not know the answer to your question. Self-scanners, which allow people to scan products and tally their purchases as they shop, also score high, as do hand-held shopping assistants, a device that displays product info when an item's barcode is scanned. Frequent-shopper kiosks, into which people can insert loyalty cards and receive personalized coupons and promotions, get high marks, too. Survey participants are also interested in "body scanning," a computerized process that takes a person's measurements and tells them, for better or for worse, which clothing size they need. People may like the idea, but few want to try out the virtual tape measure: Only 20 percent of respondents are willing to disclose their waist size to retailers, even if the information were to stay confidential.

A few leading retailers are already experimenting with the next generation of high-tech gadgets. Safeway in the United Kingdom is pilot testing a home-shopping device with several hundred members of its frequent shopper program. The gizmo, a souped-up Palm Pilot made by Symbol Technologies in Holtsville, New York, lets people order groceries by scanning barcodes at home.

Here's how the product works. Say you've finished your last drop of orange juice. Zap the code on the carton with the device and it adds the item to your digital shopping cart. When you're ready to submit the order, connect the Palm Pilot to your computer, dial into the grocer's server and submit your list. The grocer can then access your records and determine whether you prefer to pick up your order or have it delivered. Need something that's not currently stocked in your kitchen? No problem. Just flip through the catalog furnished by the store and scan the barcode next to the product you want. Retailers that use the device could also mine data on a household's past purchases to send customized mailings, complete with barcodes, to particular customers. Maybe they'll even throw in a few coupons, too.

For more information about the study, contact Professor Ray Burke at Indiana University, (812) 855-1066.

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