H-E-B TESTS PORTABLE SELF-SCANNING TECHNOLOGY IN STORE

SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. here is testing self-scanning technology that allows customers to browse store aisles, scan item bar codes and total their orders electronically.The store testing the technology has 96 handheld scanners and four registers designated for payment of self-scanning orders. The units and registers are located in the front of the store."We're trying to achieve increased

SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. here is testing self-scanning technology that allows customers to browse store aisles, scan item bar codes and total their orders electronically.

The store testing the technology has 96 handheld scanners and four registers designated for payment of self-scanning orders. The units and registers are located in the front of the store.

"We're trying to achieve increased satisfaction with the checkout process and decrease wait times," said Bob Killough, director of retail technology for H-E-B. "[Self-scanning] has been a great success with our customers and we're continuing" to offer it.

To use the system, shoppers register and provide basic information, including their name, address, phone number and driver's license. A card is issued to the shopper, who swipes it through a card reader to release the scanner from a cradle.

Shoppers use the handheld unit to scan item bar codes. The portable unit displays item prices and keeps running totals, including tax, of orders.

Upon completing item picking, customers return the unit to its cradle, and a receipt, including the customer's name and order total, is printed. Customers are directed to a designated payment lane, where a cashier scans the receipt's bar code and the transaction is completed.

H-E-B also provides special plastic baskets for customers to place their groceries in during the shopping trip. The baskets are reusable plastic totes that fit in a special cart, and eliminate the need for paper bags. Customers purchase the totes for $2.99 each and bring the totes with them on each visit.

"A bagging system is integral to the process because you don't want to double handle the product," Killough said.

While customers do not use the regular registers at the front end of the store to pay for groceries when using the self-scanning units, H-E-B is considering integrating the system into the traditional front end, Killough said.

Besides H-E-B, handheld self-checkout units are also being tested in several chains. The technology is in widespread use in Safeway plc, London.

Among the retailers using the technology in some stores are the Nashville KMA of Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and one City Market store in Kroger's Hutchinson, Kan.-based Dillon Cos. division; Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.; Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine; and the Calgary Cooperative Association, Calgary, Alberta.

Stationary self-scanning units are also gaining attention in the industry. Kroger has been testing the units in its Dillon Cos.' Denver-based King Soopers; Kroger's Louisville KMA, Ky., division; and its Central KMA, Indianapolis.

Price Costco, a division of warehouse club retailer Costco Wholesale, Issaquah, Wash.; Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla.; and Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., are among the other retailers using stationary self-checkout systems.

H-E-B has no plans to expand the pilot to other locations at this time. The pilot began in October 1997. The self-scanning technology used at H-E-B comes from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y.