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Tops gives up on hand-held scanners ; Customers never warmed up to device used to track prices while in store aisles

Tops Markets has ended its experiment with the hand-held devices customers use to scan their groceries as they shop.

The supermarket chain offered the gadgets in five stores on a trial basis, but most customers didn't warm up to the system called EasyShop.

"We just didn't have the participation in the technology that we thought we would," said Katie McKenna, a Tops spokeswoman. However, Tops stores continue to use the self-checkout lanes that carry a similar name, EasyScan.

The Amherst-based chain decided it wasn't cost-effective to continue operating EasyShop, much less expand it chainwide, as was envisioned when the technology was rolled out at selected Tops stores in 2006.

EasyShop was offered at two stores in Amherst, one each in Depew and East Aurora, and one in Rochester. Customers who signed up to use the hand-held devices scanned items' bar codes and bagged their groceries as they went.

The device, which looked a bit like a phaser gun from the old "Star Trek" TV series, contained a display screen that kept a running tally. At checkout, the data was transferred to the store's computer system to complete the purchase. Employees periodically checked to ensure customers were scanning what they were bagging.

McKenna said the chain didn't encounter problems with theft -- instead, the system suffered from lackluster interest. Less than 2 percent of customers in the participating stores used it, she said.

The five stores each started out with two racks of the scanning devices, with each rack containing 46 of them. As time went on, the stores cut back to one rack each. Tops was on a year-to-year contract with the company that supplied the technology. The chain declined to say how much it spent on the system.

The chain sent letters to frequent users notifying them of its decision about EasyShop, and included store coupons. Store managers also called up some loyal users to let them know of the change.

Meanwhile, Tops' EasyScan self-checkout lanes continue to be popular, McKenna said. Tops has installed them in newly acquired stores that didn't have them, and it is testing a larger self-checkout area, equipped to handle larger purchases, at an Orchard Park location.

David Fikes of the Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute said industry observers haven't seen a trend toward supermarket chains dropping hand-held scanners. "The trend seems to be the other way, that more stores are adding them," he said.


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