Safeway to try automated checkout lanes

September 18, 1990|By Graeme Browning

Had it up to here with long lines at the grocery store? Wit melting ice cream and tired kids screaming for candy?

Enter the automated checkout machine -- taking the laser-operated scanner one step further.

Safeway Inc.'s Eastern Division will unveil four of the high-tech solutions to the grocery shopper's nightmare tomorrow at its Greenbelt store.

The automated checkout machines, manufactured by CheckRobot Inc. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., come equipped with an eye-level color video terminal, a computer keyboard and the same laser-activated bar scanner used in the conventional checkout lanes, division spokesman Jim Roberts said yesterday.

Customers pass their items over the bar scanner, and the machine automatically tabulates prices. Produce is weighed on a scale attached to the checkout machine. Customers then punch a button imprinted with a picture of the appropriate vegetable or fruit to tabulate the price.

Although the automated checkout sounds as though it operates on the honor system, Mr. Roberts indicated that it is not vulnerable to theft.

"The machine is pretty smart," he said. "It can detect when something is scanned and something else is placed on the belt. There will be people very close by. In Greenbelt, there are two cashiers within a few feet and people bagging. You'd have to be pretty tricky. Theft hasn't been a problem in other parts of the country where it's been tested."

After all of the items are tabulated, the customer receives a receipt that is taken to a centralized cashier booth nearby, where the groceries are paid for.

"If you've got carrots, you put your carrots down on the scale and push the button. It's just like looking at a computer screen," although Safeway employees will be available to bag the purchases, Mr. Roberts said.

The Greenbelt store will be a testing ground for automated checkout machines, which could be installed in all of the Eastern Division's 148 stores, from Baltimore County to Williamsburg, Va., if the test is successful, Mr. Roberts said. Safeway is the first grocer in the nation to offer automated checkouts, he said.

The four machines, reportedly costing approximately $30,000 each -- although Mr. Roberts declined to confirm or deny that figure -- will be added to the store's 12 conventional checkout lanes.

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