Grocery shopping of the future

First, scan your loyalty card to activate a wand.

Do you remember the Jetsons?  Well, its futuristic vision has arrived… at our local grocery store. It’s the wave of the future, in the milk aisle. And I love it.

Last week at work it was my department’s turn to go down to the Albert Heijn supermarket and buy the groceries for our team lunch. I went with my co-worker and he suggested we use the automated checkout system. Intrigued, I immediately pounced on his suggestion and then proceeded to publicly embarrass him as I excitedly operated the “high-tech” system with frequent vocal expressions of glee.

Once you've finished shopping (conveniently scanning all your items as you go along), proceed to the wait-free self-checkout machine.

How amazing is this. First you scan your Albert Heijn loyalty card at the entrance to the store and the wall releases a hand-held price wand. As you go through the store doing your shopping, you scan each item with the wand before dropping it into your basket. The wand tells you the price of each item and keeps a running total. Believe me, this makes grocery shopping a lot more exciting and fun.

When you finish shopping, you proceed to the self check-out area. There are several machines and no need to wait (unlike in the UK, where the self check-out queue is just as long as the regular queue, you have scan the items yourself, and then the bitchy machine with Tourette’s syndrome keeps saying, “Unexpected item in the bagging area! Unexpected item in the bagging area!”).

But, here’s the best part about the Dutch system – since you’ve already scanned all your items, all you have to do is dock the wand into the machine. It then automatically transfers your entire inventory of purchases to the cash-register-come-computer-screen. How neat is that!

Magic wands - ta da!

You can then pay by card or cash and the machine will print a receipt.  To exit the self check-out area, just scan your receipt and the barrier will open.

What’s so genius about this whole arrangement is that you don’t even have to take your items out of the shopping trolley (or whatever other receptacle you put them in as you shop) when you check-out, because they’ve already been scanned. There is no need to put your items in the cart, take them out to place them on the conveyor belt, and then put them back in the cart again. You could go into the supermarket with a backpack (or a reusable bag) put your food in it as you do your shopping, and then not take them out again until you get home. Brilliant!

Open sesasme!

It makes me realize in retrospect how bad the self check-out systems in the UK are at the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  There, you still have to queue up, you still have to put the items on the conveyor belt, you still have to bag them afterward, and on top of it all you have to call the clerk over every two minutes to unfreeze the machine.  I’m aware that more sophisticated self check-out systems exist elsewhere, like France, but I’ve never seen it done so efficiently and so well as at the Albert Heijn in Holland.  Now all they need to do is introduce Jetsons conveyor belts to move you around the store as you shop.

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About Home Strange Home

I first left the US in 1999, when I was 18 years old. Since then, I’ve spent 13 years living abroad - 3 in Canada, 7 in Europe, and 3 in Africa. Now I've finally returned to the US on a one-way plane ticket. I arrived home in late January 2014 and set foot in the US for the first time in nearly 2.5 years. In Home Strange Home, I blog about the ups and downs of my re-acculturation experience.
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7 Responses to Grocery shopping of the future

  1. James says:

    This could be the single greatest advancement in human civilization. Amazing.

  2. Will M says:

    Hey – how do they stop people stealing from the supermarkets by not scanning items people put in their bags? My understanding is that’s the main reason the UK doesn’t use this system.

    • africagrows says:

      Good question. There is a clerk there that seems to monitor over people while they check out, and you do have to scan your receipt to open the barrier and leave the self check-out area. However, there is no way either of these mechanisms could ensure that people have paid for all of the items in their trolley. I seriously wonder if it is purely a societal thing– I can’t really imagine it even occurring to the average Dutch person that they could/would/should cheat the system. People here really play by the rules and tend to be very oriented toward the common good. In my office, for example, people actually take turns collecting the dirty coffee cups from people’s desks to make sure they are washed at the end of the day. Compare that to every office I ever worked at in the US/UK, which always had a mass of dirty dishes piled in the sink which no one took responsibility for cleaning up.

  3. Pedro says:

    ah! we have them too in Portugal and it works fine, but as good southerners we are, they manually check one in every three customers to guarantee you are not shoplifting!

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  6. Juliette says:

    In the Uk we do have scanners like this that are found in Waitrose and work really well too(before you have a pop at the uk again!)
    The supermarkets are getting better here in the Netherlands- yes for sure- but still have a long way to catch up in general.
    I do also agree that the other the self scanners are a pain in the Uk -but the whole shopping experience is well worth it-for polite customer service,choice and cleanliness overall

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