(Gail Burton ~ Associated Press)
She uses a personal scanner offered by the Bloom grocery store near her home, scanning each item as she takes it off the shelf and bagging as she shops. When she's done, she pays at a terminal at the front of the store.
"When I come up to the checkout, everything's already bagged, I go to my car, I'm done. No waiting in line," she said at the suburban store between Washington and Baltimore.
The handheld scanner lets customers keep a running tally as they work their way through the aisles, allowing them to spend more time shopping and less time waiting to check out.
Today, personal scanners are more common in Europe, but their use is growing in the United States as grocers introduce high-tech tools that promise to make shopping more convenient and seem less like a chore.
In Maryland, scanners are available at Bloom stores in Scaggsville and Rockville and a Martin's Food Market in Eldersburg.
Scales with printers let customers create bar-coded tags for fruits, vegetables and other produce that isn't priced. Bloom stores also have computerized kiosks that print out recipes and a map showing where the ingredients can be found.
Once shopping is finished, customers head to the front of the store -- a process that involves scanning a bar code generated by the personal scanner, swiping a personal card and -- of course -- paying. Shoppers are randomly picked for audits to ensure items haven't been placed in the shopping cart without being scanned.
Karen Peterson, a Food Lion spokeswoman, said the subsidiary of Brussels-based Delhaize Group has the scanners in about half of its 52 upscale Bloom stores and shoplifting has not been a problem. The company offers the scanners to give its customers "another option in the way they like to shop."
"It saves time, they can watch what they're spending, it's a convenience," Peterson said.
Tracy Pawelski, spokeswoman for Martin's parent company Giant Food Stores LLC, said 11 Martin's stores offer scanners.
The scanners are "purely about convenience for customers" and do not replace store employees, who can be deployed elsewhere in the store, Pawelski said.
Lisa Sympson, a mother from Laurel, Md., said the scanner was easier and "a lot faster, too," saving her about 15 to 20 minutes a trip. "So, that's quite a bit of savings for me."
"To the extent that this makes the checkout process quicker and helps them with their purchasing decisions, it seems like a real winner for consumers," said Marshall Kay, a retail analyst with the consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates.
One system built by Motorola Inc. is used in 1,000 stores in Europe and more than 100 in the United States, said Frank Riso, senior director of the company's retail solutions group.
Besides keeping track of items as they are dropped into the cart, shoppers can use the scanners to build bridal and gift registries.
"You can scan everything you'd like people to buy for you," Riso said.
Shoppers also can use the scanners to create lists of items for delivery, such as bulky items at hardware stores, Riso said.
In New England, some Stop & Shop supermarkets offer an International Business Machines Corp. system that arms shoppers with a scanner and wireless touch-screen display attached to the shopping cart.
Plano, Texas-based Media Cart Holdings Inc. also offers a "kiosk on wheels" system that includes a cart-attached screen that flashes relevant ads as users walk through the aisles. It also has a scanner for keeping track of what's put in the cart.
William Stewart of Sykesville avoided lines while shopping with his father at the Eldersburg Martin's store. Stewart said he prefers the system over the traditional checkout, except for its occasional problems accepting coupons.
"I do miss the interaction with the cashiers because my dad and I are people persons. But you do beat the line and, once you get used to it, it pretty much works for itself," Stewart said.
Sue Jones of Sykesville said the system makes shopping with her child easier.
"I usually have a little one, so it's easier to check out," Jones said. "I scan the little bar codes and at the end I can just pay. Usually by the end that's when she starts to scream, so I can get out fast."
On the Net:
Delhaize Group: http://www.delhaizegroup.com
Royal Ahold NV (Parent of Martin's Giant Food Stores LLC): http://www.ahold.com
Motorola Inc.: http://www.motorola.com
Media Cart Holdings Inc.: http://www.mediacart.com