Some lucky Asda customers are now speeding through the checkout, with the unveiling of a new type of high-tech scanner.
The Rapid Scan, from Germany's Wincor Nixdorf, automatically checks the barcode of each item as it passes along the conveyor belt. It can detect it from any angle, even from below, meaning there's no need for the operator to fiddle around - just pop the items on in a line and let the system do its work. "It's easy, it's stress free, and you don't feel there's someone breathing down your neck," says a spokeswoman.
Asda claims that the high-tech scanner can speed up the checkout process by as much as three times, partly because of a 'split conveyor' system. This allows one customer to be paying and bagging up while the next passes their shopping through the device.
For anyone worried about discounts, Asda applies these automatically through the till, so there's no need to worry that your end-of-the-day bargain will go through at full price. And there'll be no robot voices complaining of unexpected items in the bagging area, as with current self-service systems. In any case, says Asda, there will always be an attendant on hand to help.
The first UK outing for the system is at the company's York superstore; it's still experimental, though, and there's no date for a national roll-out.
"We leave them in-store until we have enough customer feedback and it's been trialled with all ages and different-sized baskets," said a spokeswoman. "It's very early days, and a decision will be made further down the line."
The company claims the system's proving highly popular with customers of all ages - although as the York store's frequently used to test out new ideas, its customers may be more tech-savvy than most.
But are customers really that concerned about saving a minute or two at the checkout? Well, maybe. While Britons have long been famous for their patient queuing, all that seems to be changing. A survey last year from YouGov found that 59 percent of UK shoppers weren't prepared to wait in line, saying they'd go to another store or shop online instead. However, nearly nine in ten said they blamed poor staffing for delays, meaning Asda would do well to make sure there's plenty of help.
Dr Sue Eccles of Bournemouth University, who has researched shopping behaviour, says she believes Rapid Scan could take off - as long as it isn't used as a way of cutting staff levels. "I think people like to have that human interaction, and I would be interested to see how effective it really was in cutting queues and increasing customer satisfaction," she says.
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