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11:50am on Saturday, 22nd October, 2011:

Scanning and Going


Sainsbury's has this system called Scan & Go. In order to avoid lengthy queues at the checkout, you can pick up a scanner when you enter the store and scan everything yourself as you put it into your bags. Then you only have the lengthy queue at the Scan & Go tills to endure before you leave the shop with your newly-purchased stuff.

I often wondered how they checked that people weren't cheating by not scanning things, or by scanning fewer of them than they actually picked up. I thought it was done by CCTV, with security officers watching what you were scanning and what was going into your basket. I'm sure this does play a part, but today I found out that it's not the only weapon in their armoury.

So, I went to the Scan & Go till and put my handset in the receiving bay. I waited the usual period of much-longer-than-it-should-be for it to handshake with the server so we could pay, then indicated that yes, we did need assistance, because we had bought something with a security tag on it that needed taking off. The guy in charge of the tills (who was a bit flustered as he was having to take similar security tags off a pile of DVDs someone else was buying) came over and waved his card at it. It worked, then the supervisors screen came up again. He scanneed again. It worked, then the supervisor screen came up again. At this point he read the supervisor screen and said we'd been selected for a random rescan.

I'm always sceptical about the word "random" in security contexts, having been subjected to a series of such "random" security checks when I was in the USA in 2005. Still, it's not like I can prove they picked on me, and it could actually have been random. Anyway, the check involved going to an adjacent unused till and having all our shopping taken out of its bags and rescanned by the senior till supervisor. Despite insisting it was random, she was very nervous — she asked us how many of our own bags we'd used maybe four or five times before she registed that she'd been repeating the question. I asked her if there were security guards on the way because we'd missed something, but she said no. She only had to rescan the shopping, she didn't get to compare it to the list of what we'd actually scanned and she didn't even know if it was the same or not. The server runs some kind of level-based system in which if you do try to get through without paying for something, they drop you a level. There are about five levels, and when you get to level zero you can't use Scan & Go any more. There's no easy way to find out what your level is, but Customer Service may be able to find out (presumably this is so bolshie customers don't hit them with a Freedom of Information request).

I was a bit annoyed, to be honest. Firstly, I was annoyed that something that's supposed to make shopping quicker on this case made it a lot slower. Secondly, I was annoyed that no-one had told me when I signed up for Scan & Go that random rescans happened. Thirdly, I was annoyed that my integrity was being questioned. Fourthly, I was annoyed that the young member of staff they called over to "help" me repack my stuff was actually hindering me because she was clueless about how to pack shopping bags. Frozen stuff doesn't go next to potatoes.

I was also slightly worried that we may have made some genuine mistake and not actually scanned something we should have — I have in the past put things into my bag only to realise later that I hadn't scanned them, and have had to dig them out to zap them. It only takes one beep from someone else's handset at the same time I'm scanning something myself and I'm going to think I scanned something when I didn't. Then again, I've also scanned things twice by accident. The opportunity to make innocent mistakes is high.

Oh well. I guess I'll find out if I did make a mistake if I get another "random" rescan request in, say, six weeks' time.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).