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You can now scan groceries with your phone at some Wegmans stores, pay and go

Want to get in and out of the grocery store faster? There's an app for that.

Wegmans' SCAN app allows shoppers at certain stores to scan their own groceries as they shop, pay and then leave.

Here's how it works: Shoppers use their smartphones to scan the barcode on each item before placing it in their cart. If they weigh produce, they'll scan the barcode on the scale. When finished shopping, customers scan a barcode at the self-checkout register, enter any paper coupons they might have, then pay as usual.

If the customer has purchased alcohol, a worker will check the customer's identification to verify their age. Customers won't have to unload their purchases, and can roll their carts out the door.

Wegmans joins stores such as Dollar General, Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club that already have scanning programs in effect at many locations.

Tops Markets has a scan-and-go option on the way as well.

Wegmans has been piloting the program for more than a year – before the need to minimize contact with workers became an issue. The app is now active at Wegmans stores on Alberta Drive in Amherst, on Transit Road near Losson Road in Depew, on McKinley Parkway in Hamburg, on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst and on Amherst Street. It will be available at the Sheridan Drive store in Amherst next month.

Tops Markets is testing a scan-and-go shopper app internally at one pilot store, according to Kathleen Sautter, a Tops spokesperson. It plans to open the app to the public at that store over the next month or so, then roll it out to additional stores after that.

Tops tried a similar shopping approach in 2006 called EasyShop, but it appears it was ahead of its time. Instead of using smartphones, shoppers used digital scanners provided by stores. The program ended in 2011 because of low customer participation. The option was offered in five pilot stores, but just 2% of shoppers at those stores took advantage of it.

Sam's Club was also ahead of the curve, trying a shop-and-go program in 2013. It tried again in 2019 and the program is still live now.

In 2016, Amazon launched its Amazon GO store format, where customers can check in at the entrance, put their phones away, then put items in their carts and leave without cashing out. The stores use a system of sensors and cameras to track purchases, then automatically charge the customer for them.

Retailers that may have been hesitant to add scan-and-go features in the past may now reconsider in light of social distancing protocols. In the past, shoplifting has been a deterrent. Even honest shoppers have been found to overlook some products or make other errors in scanning if they are distracted or confused, experts and retailers have noted.

Walmart dropped its Scan & Go program last year after just four months of a 100-store pilot, and later cited theft. It is currently using and expanding the program at its subsidiary stores in the United Kingdom, however.

A 2018 study of 140 million scan-and-go transactions showed that stores could lose up to 1% of their inventory for every 10% of customer-scanned transactions, according to Efficient Consumer Response, which analyzes shrinkage.

On the flip side, such apps can free up space in stores, eliminate paper receipts, drive loyalty and promotions and save stores money on point-of-sale systems.

It also cuts cashiers out of the equation. Then, it's up to stores to decide whether they want to grab the cost savings or redeploy those workers elsewhere in the store.

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