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In an effort to increase efficiency and create an optimal customer experience, grocery store owners and managers are increasingly integrating computers into daily operations. The volume of information technology used in supermarkets has expanded from merely keeping track of inventory and doing the books to improving the overall shopping experience for customers. From checkout systems to hand-held devices and online shopping, computers are changing the way people shop for groceries.
Integration of Store Operations
Most shoppers are probably familiar with the checkout process at any given supermarket and don't even think about the technology involved. However, ICT in supermarkets, or information communications technology, integrates many components of doing business and simplifies the process for store managers.
The key component is the POS, or point of sales system, that scans each item's barcode as it is purchased. In addition to recording and tallying the sale, the system also performs other important tasks, including:
- Tracking product bundling and coupon discounts
- Tracking inventory so reordering can be timely
- Adding sales data to the store's accounting software
- Gathering information on customer buying preferences
- Tracking customer loyalty points
- Performing payment processing with EBT, debit cards or credit cards
Many grocery shoppers stop by the store for only a few items and want to get in and out quickly. Self-serve fast-lane terminals with voice assistance allow customers to check out by themselves without having to wait in line. Point-and-select touchscreens, a computerized voice assistant that gives directions for completing the sale and integrated payment processing speed the checkout.
Scales and a produce picture directory on the screen eliminate the need to know specific codes for produce items. When questions arise, one employee can step in and manage four to six terminals, reducing the need for several employees operating multiple checkout lanes.
Scan-and-Go Information Technology Used in Supermarkets
Also among the many uses of computers in supermarkets is the push toward expediting shopping with the use of scan-and-go technology. Stores are experimenting with a variety of techniques to help shoppers move in and out of stores quickly, such as hand-held scanners, smartphone apps and computer vision.
Using Hand-Held Scanners
Some supermarkets offer hand-held scanners to their customers to use throughout their shopping trip. Customers pick up a scanner at the front of the store and have it linked to their store loyalty card. Then, they scan each item as they select it and immediately bag it right in the cart. When they are finished, the pre-scanned shopping cart list is downloaded from the hand-held device, and the customer can pay right at the checkout terminal.
Smartphone Apps and Computer Vision
A step beyond the hand-held scanners are store scan-and-go apps that work on a shopper's smartphone. In addition to scanning all the items, customers can pay for the cartload right on the app.
Some stores are also experimenting with computer vision and machine-learning technology, where cameras stationed throughout the store view items as a shopper puts them in the cart, recognize them and add the price to a customer's grocery tab without having to actually scan the item's barcode.
Online Shopping Adds Convenience
Online shopping is another place where information technology is used in supermarkets. Those with hectic workdays and kids' schedules don't always have time to spend at the grocery store.
Shopping can now be done from the convenience of a computer or smartphone during a lunch break or at a soccer game. Point, click and add items to your virtual cart. Pay online, schedule a delivery or pick up the order at the store, and you've bought yourself an hour.
Robotic Assistants Manage Store Safety
Perhaps one of the most noticeable uses of computers in supermarkets is the presence of robotic assistants roaming the aisles. Many grocery stores utilize robotic devices that wheel themselves through the store looking for potential safety hazards and alerting store personnel of spills.
For example, in Giant Food stores, Marty, a tall, googly-eyed robot, reports spills to human employees by tapping into the PA system and announcing the need for a "cleanup in aisle three". In other stores, automated floor cleaners also roam the aisles performing the task themselves.
- POS Nation: Grocery Store & Market POS System
- Clark.com: Easy Handheld Checkout Coming to a Store Near You?
- TechCrunch: Sam's Club to Test New Scan and Go System That Uses Computer Vision Instead of Barcodes
- The Washington Post: Giant Food Stores Will Place Robotic Assistants at 172 Locations, Company Says
- Revision World: ICT in Supermarkets
Elisabeth Natter is a business owner and professional writer. She has done public relations work for several nonprofit organizations and currently creates content for clients of her suburban Philadelphia communications and IT solutions company. Her writing is often focused on small business issues and best practices for organizations. Her work has appeared in the business sections of chron.com, azcentral and Happenings Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University.