Jessica Winch looks at the technology set to speed up your shopping trips.
When I go into a supermarket, particularly on a Sunday afternoon when it is packed with small children, my main goal is to grab the items I need and check out as quickly as possible.
To that end, I usually head straight for the self-service checkouts. It is not perfect – “unexpected item in bagging area” has become a familiar element of the experience – but it is fast and I don’t have to worry about offending a checkout worker by talking on a mobile phone.
So I was excited to hear about a scheme in France where shoppers were able to pay for their goods with a flick of their finger.
In a six-month trial, customers of supermarket chain Auchan and DIY store Leroy Merlin were able to pay for their goods by placing a fingertip on a scanner.
The participants carried a payment card holding their biometric data and a case that allowed the card to communicate with the till. All the customer had to do was present a finger and the payment was processed.
Andre Delaforge from Natural Security, the developers behind the trial, said the aim was to bring “serenity to the checkout”.
“What we learnt from the pilot is that if people are shopping, they are looking for a fast and convenient way to pay,” he said. “A lot of people were interested in the technology because it was an easy way to pay without having to go through your bag.”
Mr Delaforge emphasised it was also a secure way to pay – it’s harder to scan a fingerprint than note a Pin code.
“In one year this could be a common method of payment,” Mr Delaforge said.
The customers certainly seemed to like it. Around 900 people took part in the trial and 94pc said they would be willing to use fingerprint payment for all their in-store purchases.
Mr Delaforge said the technology could also be developed to add loyalty points and discounts automatically when a customer scans their fingerprint, helping consumers save both time and money.
It could be the influence of Minority Report, but there seems to be an interest in biometric payments on this side of the Channel as well.
A recent study of more than 2,000 shoppers by payment processing group WorldPay found 49pc would use biometric payments, such as fingerprint or iris scanners – far outweighing the popularity of smartphone payments, which won 30pc of the vote.
Ron Kalifa, deputy chairman of WorldPay, said: “It’s interesting to see the public considering biometric payments, a science that they may have seen in films or on television, which suggests familiarity and visibility of new payment technologies is crucial in moving usage from tech-savvy enthusiasts to the wider public.”
Biometric payment might be a few years away from supermarkets in Britain. But in the meantime, a number of developments are under way to change the way we shop.
Asda has launched airport-style scanners at checkouts to turbocharge the process.
Earlier this month the first “Rapid Scan”, which apparently increases the speed of scanning by up to 300pc, was unveiled at Asda’s York store (if we have any readers shopping in the area, I’d be keen to know if the reality matches the rhetoric).
The idea was to take the self-scan checkouts and redesign them for bigger shop loads. A shopper places their items on a conveyor belt which passes through a 360-degree scanner, able to identify bar codes from every angle. There are two bagging areas so as soon as the first shopper’s goods have passed through the scanner, a second shopper can begin sending their items through.
It is also a cashless process, as the system only accepts payment from a plastic card.
Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, is currently piloting a mobile app which allows customers to scan their shopping using their smartphone as they walk around the aisles. The app tracks their spending, so customers can pay for their shopping at the till without having to unload their goods.
The service is currently available in three stores – Clerkenwell and Bethnal Green in London and Tadley in Hampshire – ahead of a wider rollout next year. A Sainsbury’s spokesman said in future the app could act as a mobile wallet, allowing customers to pay with their smartphone and avoid the till altogether. A slightly more Big Brother-esque possibility is that the app could remind customers if they forget to buy a regular item.
I hope that checkout staff remain part of the supermarket shop. It is helpful – sometimes essential – to have a human dispensing some common sense behind the till. But if anything can get me out of the door faster while keeping my personal data safe, I’m all for exploring the possibilities.