Some food retailers were still making adjustments to their self-checkout systems last week to allow them to accept the new $20 bills, though most had fixed the problem.
Shortly after the bills, sporting new colors, went into circulation Oct. 9, some stores discovered that their machines were not able to process them. Most instructed shoppers to try older bills, as self-checkout vendors quickly worked on implementing hardware and software patches to correct the flaw, usually finishing within a week or two.
Self-checkout vendors said they provided software upgrades in advance of the new bills' release, but some retailers did not implement the software right away. And, as with any upgrade, there can be glitches in the software that need to be adjusted.
In addition, said vendors, although they tested the new $20s in their machines in advance, they cannot always predict how new bills will interact with the hardware until the bills have been in rotation for a while.
Optimal Robotics, a vendor based in Montreal, was in the midst of getting its U-Scan self-checkout machines upgraded last week at its food-retail clients, which include Kroger, Meijer, Harris Teeter and other chains, said Robin Yaffe, director of marketing for Optimal Robotics. "They're still able to process people through U-Scan [lanes], they're just posting small notices not to use new $20 bills," said Yaffe.
The majority of U-Scan lanes require changing a hardware chip, so Optimal is sending its technicians to stores for the upgrade. The switch should not take long, since it is "a top priority to get everyone up and running," Yaffe said.
At Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, the $20 bill problems were addressed by its self-checkout vendor, Productivity Solutions Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., by Oct. 23, said Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for Food Lion, which has self-checkout lanes in about 60 of its 1,200 stores.
"We quickly realized the problem was with the new $20 bills, that they weren't being recognized by the bill readers," said Lowrance. "We worked with customers on a case-by-case basis, to see if they had any older $20 bills."
For the most part, PSI was able to provide a remote software patch for the machines, or it sent technicians to Food Lion stores. "We were pleased they got it taken care of so quickly," Lowrance said.
PSI, also the vendor for Knowlan's Festival Foods, Vadnais Heights, Minn., sent out a software patch and hardware chip to fix minor problems at Knowlan's stores within two days, said Ed Doud, director of retail technology for Knowlan's. Even before the patches, the new bills did not cause "any meaningful issues," said Doud. "If we had a bill that was rejected, there was an attendant who took tender at the pay station in the next lane."
Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., reported no problems with the 20 self-checkout lanes it has at five stores. "We were aware that the government was going to be issuing the new $20 bills and we did software upgrades [around the time the bills were issued]," said Jeanne Norcross, corporate communications director for Spartan. "We have not had any customer feedback that they were not able to process $20 bills." Spartan's vendor, PSI, was able to send the majority of upgrades remotely to Spartan via its server.
Another major self-checkout vendor, NCR, Dayton, Ohio, said that, although there were some sporadic incidents with its grocery customers, most were ready to handle the new bills within a day or two after their release.
"We provided that update to our customers starting over this summer, and have had good success getting that deployed to the field in time for the new notes," said Dusty Lutz, product line director, NCR.