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  • Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette Debby Penar scans her produce items as she shops at Dupont Road Kroger Marketplace store.

  • Photos by Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette Debby Penar grabs a shopping scanner so she can scan her items as she puts them into shopping bags at the Dupont Road Kroger Marketplace.

  • Kroger has an app that allows customers to scan items as they put them into the cart and directly into shopping bags.

Sunday, June 16, 2019 1:00 am

Grocers making shopping convenient

Scan, Bag, Go lets Kroger customers skip checkout aisle

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Anything. Any time. Anywhere.

The grocery sector's technological revolution is reflected in Kroger's new motto.

“We just want people to be able to get their groceries the way they want them,” Kroger spokesman Eric Halvorson said. “Such a big part of our business now is convenience.”

The quest for convenience has led major local competitors Meijer, Walmart and Kroger to offer online ordering and curbside pickup. The big three – and smaller competitor Fresh Thyme Farmers Market – will even deliver those orders to local customers. 

Kroger's delivery service now uses driverless cars in two Southwest cities: Houston and Scottsdale, Arizona. No timetable is available for when that feature might be offered in the Midwest.

Scan, Bag, Go is the latest advance to reach the local market. Shoppers can download Kroger's app and use their cellphones or use a hand-held device to scan product codes as they place items in their carts.

Consumers compile a running total of their purchases, then pay by phone or during a brief stop at the self-checkout lane.

“It's actually a pretty cool technology,” Halvorson said, adding that a shopper told him she packs her reusable bags by grouping together items by how she unpacks them at home.

Debby Penar, a local shopper, had used the technology about six times when she was asked to critique it.

“I like it when I get to the end and I don't have to wait in line to check out,” she said, adding that shoppers still have to interact with the Kroger worker in the self-scan area to process coupons, finalize the purchase and receive a cash register tape.

“The only problem I have is in the produce department,” where shoppers weigh items themselves, Penar said.

“Once you get the hang of it, it's not a big deal,” she said, adding that using the technology is her new normal.

Scan, Bag, Go is available at the Kroger Marketplace on Dupont Road. After the retailer's information technology staff updates the app, it will be expanded to the Village at Coventry and St. Joe Center Road stores, Halvorson said last month.

The spokesman emphasized that no workers have lost their jobs because stores are offering self-scanning. Low unemployment makes it challenging for retailers to fill job openings, so technology is helping reduce some of their staffing needs, Halvorson said.

Kroger is playing catch-up to Meijer, which rolled out a similar program that allows shoppers to scan prices one year ago.

But other retailers might be trailing Kroger's lead in digital shelves, technology that can show ads and prices while also signaling to shoppers where the products on their shopping list can be found.

Only those consumers who have downloaded the Kroger app and their weekly shopping list – let's say, Kroger peanut butter – would trigger the digital display.

“The shelf will light up where the Kroger peanut butter is to help you shop that much faster,” Halvorson said.

The technology isn't available yet in the grocer's Central Division, which includes Indiana, Illinois and eastern Missouri. The cloud-based system was developed with Microsoft.

Walmart's advances include 22 Pickup Towers going up in Indiana. The 16-feet-tall, high-tech vending machines can fulfill a customer's online order in less than a minute once they arrive at the store. The retailer announced in April that it is also remodeling 19 stores in the state, including the Warsaw, Angola and Bluffton locations.

sslater@jg.net