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Albertsons bets on self-checkouts

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BOISE — Albertsons Inc. is investing in technology to speed customers through its grocery stores, starting with self-checkout lanes.

Larry Johnston, president of Boise-based Albertsons, said the company is spending $500 million this year on equipment customers can use to scan and bag their own groceries.

Albertsons is catching up to a few others, including discount giant Wal-Mart, that already introduced quicker check-outs, retail analysts say.

"Shoppers have less and less disposable time, and this reinforces Albertsons' leadership position as being the most efficient one-stop for consumers in key markets," said Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Research Group.

Albertsons has 3,800 self-checkout lanes in about half of its 2,500 stores. The new Shop Un' Scan system allows customers to scan and bag their groceries as they shop, using a handheld scanner. They download the bill at a self-checkout station. With the swipe of a debit or credit card, the shopping trip is finished.

Some shoppers welcome that opportunity, but others are reluctant to see their grocery store go the way of the full-service gas station, and organized labor fears the loss of jobs.

Johnston told analysts recently that shoppers using the handheld scanners are buying twice as many groceries.

"The early results of this program are impressive," Johnston said. "We have seen average baskets from users that are twice as large as average store baskets."

Jill Cashen with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union said it has been watching Albertsons to see how it affects jobs. Cashen said the union, which represents about 120,000 Albertsons workers in 26 states, has already seen a reduction in jobs, but no major layoffs.