Saturday, February 04, 2006

ASDA Morley gets personal shoppers...

No, it isn't power dressed attractive women giving you fashion tips around the George clothing area like you get in Debenhams, Personal shopper is your electronic buddy that helps you shop quicker. What you do is to self-scan and pack your items with your very own scanning gun which speeds you through the checkout- or so the theory goes...

The first inkling something new was happening was when a team of installers spent quite a bit of time fixing strange rubber ring affairs to all of the trolley handles several months ago. What were they for? You could get a small bunch of flowers in them, or maybe a rolled up copy of the Dandy, but other than somewhere mildly inconvenient to hook clothes hangers, they were without proper purpose.

Then, a few weeks ago, the pods arrived. Two keyboard/VDU affairs either side of an entrance pillar, each surrounded by columns of star-trek phasers. PC printed notes told us that Personal shopper was coming although the promised dates came and went.

Then finally, they were there and for the trying. Being an early adopter, I went through the sign-on rigmarole, registering my phone number, name, address and a secret PIN. (Wot, another one?) The unit then released one of the hand held phasers, although I didn't immediately twig it had done so and had to read the screen several times until I noticed a large black arrow pointing to the right and one of the devices lit-up to show it was unlocked.

I then merrily went round the store for my mid-week shop, happily clicking and scanning each item. It instantly told me what it was and how much it cost, along with a running total of items and spend. As it seemed unlikely that each hand-held knew the description and price of the 30,000+ product lines ASDA probably carries, I correctly surmised that it must use Wireless technology to do the item query. I also twigged that it wasn't doing the three for two type offers, as that required the main computers actually keeping track of what you were buying when it was easier to simply do that at checkout. There was a mechanism for removing items if you changed your mind and also an info button which appeared to simply give you name and price without totalling it, although it seemed to work erratically.

Was it a success? Well, for a simple shop, mostly yes. I didn't have to separate any items that needed weighing or security tags removed which could get to be a mess on a big shop unless you commandeered the bit at the front (which is where the pop bottles and cans go in our approach). You did have to press the trigger button on the gun every time and it didn't really fit too firmly in the rubber thingy so it was a bit of a faff finding the barcode and positioning the item just right. (Barcodes are mostly placed for the ease of Checkout operators, which may mean on the bottom or side, something that passes most shoppers by).

When I got to the checkout, the assistant had been out the day before so had missed the training so I was able to witness a bit of one on one rapid training from the supervisor. The system asks for a number of items to be rescanned, randonly chosen by the colleague (It chose five in my case, which sounded a lot but I was a first time user so it may vary it). They also asked me to confirm my name and address (or in my case, asked me if I was Ian Grey living at my address, d-oh!) then processed the sale as normal.

Is it a good idea? Well it should speed up the checkout process but there isn't a dedicated one for it so if they are all busy it is less of an incentive unless it gets particularly popular. You can go to the basket only aisles (well I did, and they were geared up for them). I think I saw it described as speedy-shop on the behind the counter bumf and it doesn't replace staff the way the self-scan checkouts supposedly do (although I imagine they are regarded as an alternative rather than a replacement.) It slows down the actual product selection process for the customer somewhat, having to scour the packaging to play hunt the zebra.

The biggest concern for ASDA has to be the worry of increased shoplifting, by people packing things they haven't scanned. Will they? I've no idea. Obviously it is straight-forward theft if done deliberately and I'd no more consider doing it myself than taking money off a church collection plate but some people do like to gamble and the odds are probably fairly long that if you've just one extra thing it won't be the one re-scanned. I'm sure ASDA have worked out very carefully the balance of inconvenience against loss prevention and in retail apparently most of the theft is internal, euthamistically called shrinkage but what the scuffers more accurately call fraud.

Would I use it again? Certainly, as it avoids the tedium of unloading then re-loading the trolly. I do have one concern though- it insisted that a pack of medallion steaks were actually roll-mop herring, albeit the same price. I don't want their personal profiling systems thinking I'm some kind of vegetarian...

follow up note- I had a look on the web to find out if there was an image of the kit. I did find images of colleages on the Morley Store page at, none of whom I recognised. That seems to be because they work for every other store as well, it gives you a random person every time you refresh!

I also thought it was a teensy bit amusing that the address of the store is given as Co-Operative Road!

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