From Newsday - 2001

Self-Service Shopping

At this supermarket, customers work the checkout lines themselves

By Brian Reiferson, STAFF WRITER

If you shop at the new Waldbaum's in Commack and don't like the service at the first five checkout lanes, you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

They're entirely self-service.

Since the grand opening two weeks ago, the Waldbaum's on Jericho Turnpike has offered "automated cashiering machines" at five of its 16 lanes, where customers not only bag their own groceries, they scan the products and check themselves out.

"I heard about it, and that's why I'm here," Richard Woessner of Smithtown said recently as he checked out. For Woessner, when it comes to the cashiers at the supermarket, "I just don't have the patience."

The machines are part of a trend spreading through the Waldbaum's chain to give shoppers options, said store manager Steve Melnick. In fact, a number of major chains are installing the automated registers as they open new stores.

Pathmark Inc. has plans to begin testing the machines next month. The company did not say which stores would be included in the test.

Shop Rite said it, too, intends to use the machines and has them in the testing phase.

A spokesman for King Kullen, based in Bethpage, said it is not using the automated system but is considering whether to begin doing so.

Dan Alaimo of Supermarket News, a trade publication, said use of the new machines, which not onlv scan prices and ring up the total but also accept cash for payment of the groceries, is becoming the industry standard.

Convenience, experts say, is the driving reason.

The automated machines at the Waldbaum's in Commack, for instance, are open until 10 p.m., and they accept cash, credit cards and debit cards. Customers paying with a check have to provide proper identification and pay at a separate terminal.

Debi Silverberg of Commack, who shops frequently at Waldbaum's, said, "You just follow the directions on the screen and do everything yourself." For a mother of two, she said, the difficulty comes when attempting to operate the register and keep an eye on the children simultaneously. "It's inconvenient when you have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old to watch at the same time," she said.

The process is begun by choosing the method of payment, and then the system asks the customer to scan the items to be purchased. Produce is weighed, and the price calculated just as it is by regular cashiers. Prepackaged items are then sent along a converyor belt that calculates the weight of every item based on its coding. If .that differs from the actual weight of the item on the conveyer, the belt reverses itself and the item is returned to the customer, who is asked to rescan it. Video cameras and front-end personnel deter shoplifting.

The store s front-end manager, Elaine Kovacs, said customers have "mixed feelings" about the automated cashiers. But, she said, "Once they get used to them, they'll love them."

One customer was concerned the new machines will completely replace cashiers, but Waldbaum's officials said that won't happen.

"We're a people business, and some people don't like technology, so we give people an option," said Francis Smith, project manager for Great Atlantic and Pacific, Waldbaum's Parent, Smith said that by April, Waldbaum's will have 45 stores equipped with the machines.