Self-Scanning Put to the Test

Jr. Food Stores puts checkout work in customers ' hands, finds early acceptance

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Are convenience-store customers ready for a self-scanning checkout? Stephen Reed, director of operations for Houchens Industries, wondered that, too, before installing such a device in one of the company 's Jr. Food Stores late last year.

“Customers are not looking for that level of service device to be implemented in the c-store business, and I was honestly wondering what their response would be to it,” Reed told CSP Daily News. “Customer acceptance has been good. It 's been relatively automatic…. Customers are much more comfortable with [image-nocss] technology than we give them credit for being.”

Thus, Reed will expand his test of the self-scanning unit to a second c-store this spring. But why go into a test with a system about which you had doubts? Reed said it 's a matter of customer service.

“It 's simply a supplement for customers. We 're trying to be more about convenience and thinking about our business in new ways, and trying to accommodate that customer that comes in at drive time,” he said. “[At that time, we might] have two lines open waiting on customers, and if you have a lottery customer or a customer who takes a little more time or if a customer simply wants to take care of their business themselves, they can step right up to the self-scan unit.”

The third, self-scanning checkout area is positioned between the two manned registers, Reed said. “So now if we have two manned registers, we have three places to check out, and at slower times of the day, we don 't have to schedule up for a spurt that might come,” he said. “We can have one register manned, but two places for a customer to check out.”

Creating those labor efficiencies will be the next step for the Bowling Green, Ky.-based chain. “We haven 't done that in the initial phase; we 've just let customers get used to it,” Reed said.

Another incentive for testing the self-scanning equipment is the fact the company that developed it, Pan-Oston, is a subsidiary of Houchens Industries, although the system was created to market to retailers across the country, not just at Jr. Foods.

“We are pleased to have partnered with Jr. Food Stores in this cutting-edge development,” Jim Vance, president of Pan-Oston, said in a press release about the company 's first installation of its Utopia C-Store Self-Scan unit. “While traditional counter checkouts will continue to be available, being able to offer the convenience-store customer a self-checkout option is exciting.”

The system from Pan-Oston features customizable options of cash-back with purchase, customer prepay for gas inside the store, and fueling at the pump of the customer 's choice for up to 30 days.

The system also offers biometrics options, which Reed hopes to implement in the near future for tobacco and alcohol purchases.

“A customer can put his identification data and date of birth into the system one time,” he said. “Then that customer can use his thumb print [to confirm his ID and age] the next time they buy alcohol or tobacco when it asks for authorization, and they 're preapproved.”

One hurdle needs to be overcome before that can be put into affect: gaining state approval of biometrics as an IDing method. “We 're working with our state alcohol and tobacco regulatory groups and getting them educated in what the system is capable of,” Reed said, “and so far those discussions have been very positive.”

The Utopia system operates independent of the point-of-sale system, according to Pan-Oston, and can be retrofitted to any c-store checkout application.

Jr. Food Stores in a growing c-store chain headquartered in Bowling Green, Ky. In addition to 40 Jr. Food Stores and 23 Tobacco Shoppe discount cigarette outlets, Houchens Industries has about 150 grocery stores run under various names, including Houchens, Food Giant, Piggly Wiggly and Mad Butcher. It also operates 220 Save-A-Lot discount-grocery stores in 13 states. Earlier this month, the company announced the purchase of 14 c-stores from Browning Oil, also based in Bowling Green.

With interests in grocery, c-store, insurance, recycling, web-based management, manufacturing, construction, tanning supplies, cigarette manufacturing and other industrial applications, Houchens Industries now conducts business in all 50 states.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
View More Articles By Steve Holtz