I was on a routine outing at Madison Stop & Shop when I witnessed a platoon of ordinary civilians brandish laser guns and storm the bakery department.  I watched helplessly from behind a bread bin as they scanned their bagels and raced past, leaving me in a flurry of breadcrumbs.  They were probably already at home shmearing their bagels with cream cheese by the time I packed up my hardening pumpernickel and checked out.

If only I too had held a “Scan It,” a new digital gadget at Stop & Shop.  To reduce check out time it allows you to scan and bag your own groceries in the aisle while you shop.  I wondered if I was ready to jump aboard the Scan It wagon, and stretch self-serve beyond airline tickets, money withdrawal and salad bars.   Was I prepared to do the job of cashier without being paid?  The way I figure it, I’m a full-time mom and used to working for nothing anyway, so what did I have to lose?

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I had once tried Stop & Shop’s Peapod grocery delivery service.  While I found that a strapping young man hauling ten bags of groceries into my kitchen wasn’t a bad way to start the morning, I soon realized that by adding groceries to my list of dry-cleaning, newspaper, and pizza deliveries, I hadn’t left my house in weeks.  I needed a reason to re-enter society and to shave my legs.

So one recent morning I entered the store’s kiosk, approached the Great Wall of Scanners, and swiped my loyalty card.  This disengaged a Scan It device, which is about the size of a large hairbrush and looks like a cross between a calculator and E.T.’s face.

I grabbed the gadget, and feeling strangely empowered, picked up my first grocery item.   Trying to find the barcode was like playing “Where’s Waldo” on a can of corn.  Zap.  No validation beep.  Zap.  Nothing.  Item closer.  Item further.  Standing on one leg.   Beep!   Finally, success!  But wait... did I just scan the can, or the metal plate in my wrist?

 The learning curve for produce was harder because you have to use a computer touch screen to identify the produce and weigh it to get the bar code.  Buying common peaches was okay, but I found negotiating boysenberries so frustrating that after ten minutes I was ready to abandon my fresh pie and head straight to the canned fruit aisle. And forget about the French string beans.  I had an easier time getting through airport security during my last trip to Israel.

The Scan-It alerts you to sale items with a soft beep.  Sounds helpful, but a popular sale item can produce a chorus of beeps so persistent you fear the announcement on discounted Cheez-It’s may have just flat lined your neighbor Doris on aisle 7.

As you’d expect, checking out was quick since I had already bagged my own groceries.   But self-scanners beware.  You may want to build in extra time for check out in case you’re audited (I don’t mean by the IRS).  To prevent a potential new brand of stealing where dishonest customers might be tempted to slip a 20lb rib roast into their grocery cart instead of their overcoat, Stop & Shop uses random selection.  At any moment you might be one of the unlucky shoppers picked out of the checkout aisle to empty your bags of five hundred eighty-seven items for a booty check.

While it’s understandable that security is needed, let’s hope it doesn’t graduate from bag searches to airport full body scanners or strip searches (and I’m not talking strip steak).

All in all, I’d say Stop & Shop’s new system isn’t bad, you just have to get acquainted with it.  And be sure to shop selectively or the Italian onions could cause you to weep before you even leave the store.

 

 

When Jersey Girl Lisa Tognola traded her job as freelance writer for that of full-time mother of three children, it didn’t take long before her writing was reduced to grocery lists, notes to school nurses excusing her kids from gym class, and e-mails to her husband reminding him to call his mother.  Her hunger for adventure ultimately led her to local reporting, where she now finds herself thrown into harrowing situations and narrowly escaping dangerous places like lacrosse games and town hall meetings.   Her new weekly humor column, Main Street Musings, highlights the humorous side of local news.   Ms. Tognola lives in Chatham, New Jersey with her family.