Everyone dislikes waiting at the supermarket checkout, particularly when the line is several customers deep and everyone has carts piled high. This is only natural, so why has no one managed to create a way to get round this issue?
Money and practicality remains one of the biggest barriers to solving this issue. While it's now easy to get RFID tags that can be stuck onto every single product, they're too expensive for mass use. To be viable, companies would expect to be able to create them and implant them for fractions of a cent. Then, each one would have to be deactivated upon leaving the store.
Other issues include preventing other people from paying for another person's goods. Problems could arise if children scanned and purchased items without parental consent or knowledge.
Then, there's the problem of fraud. RFID scanners can be defeated relatively easily: a small amount of metal mesh can be used to prevent signals from entering or leaving a specific area. This technique is regularly used to defeat the security tags already present on clothing and alcohol.
How do you ensure that payment is presented at the supermarket checkout? Some might argue that a directional booth which all shoppers pass through could solve the issue. Unfortunately, issues such as signal bleed make this unfeasible, and this is one of the many tricky issues that has plagued cheap RFID tags since the 1980s.
So is there another way?
One scheme that was rolled out by Tesco in the United Kingdom in 2012 is scan as you shop. Customers tie the scanners to their store loyalty cards, which register who is using the device. They then shop, scanning products as they go. They go to a supermarket checkout and scan the barcode on it to download their list of scanned items.
Naturally, there are a few checks and balances, and a traditional supermarket checkout is still needed to take payment. Likewise, you must still present ID for alcohol purchases and have tags removed from certain items. However, items that must be weighed can be weighed using the weighing stations in the aisles and have a barcode printed right there. This is essentially a natural extension of the self-service machines that you can already find in Walmart and other shops.
In France, customers can use their phones to scan as they shop via near-field communication. They can then pay using their phones. A register is still needed, but they can also bring up product information, which is particularly useful for those with food allergies.
The supermarket checkout is still around, and for good reason. Many people prefer the interaction of a living, breathing cashier, and smaller stores will not be able to justify the cost of a partially automated scanning and payment system. RFID transmitters are still not practical, and much of the current setups to reduce waiting times at the supermarket checkout rely substantially on the honesty and accuracy of the customer.
(Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / freedigitalphotos.net)