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Check this out

September 21, 2000

Check outCheck this out



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

A Hagerstown supermarket chain is offering its customers the option of checking out groceries without waiting for a cashier.

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Self-checkout stations opened this week at Martin's stores on Dual Highway and Fountain Head Plaza.

Customers walking by the machines looked both puzzled and amazed.

"It's different," said Stacy Dinsmore, 20, of Hagerstown, as she scanned and bagged a couple of small items, following the directions given to her by the touch-screen machine.

There seemed to be a learning curve for most people, even Jason Collins, 27, of Hagerstown, who works as a cashier.

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"You can do this. You work at Wal-Mart," said his wife, Amy Collins, 25.

But when Collins tried to scan the items too fast, the machine started talking back to him.

Every item that is scanned must be immediately put in a bag, where it is weighed to prevent people from stealing.

Produce prices are obtained just like they are at a regular register by punching in the product's code.

The machines accept any form of payment - cash, credit cards, even personal checks.

A cashier watches over the four self-serve stations to watch for theft and solve any problems.

Linda Azadi, 36, of Funkstown, thought she should get a discount for checking her own groceries after a hard day at work as a home improvement contractor.

Perhaps the machines could be designed to spit out a coupon for $1 off her next shopping trip, she suggested.

She and her husband, Robert Azadi, were curious about why the company installed the machines.

"It's the competition. I think they're scared of Super Wal-Mart," he said. A proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter would be located next to the Dual Highway Martin's store.

Martin's installed the machines to give its customers greater convenience, according to a press release from Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores, which owns the local Martin's.

The self-checkout lines are believed to be the first in the area. But they won't be the last.

A new Weis Market being built at the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and Dual Highway will feature self-checkout stands, although the technology used will be slightly different, said Weis spokesman Dennis Curtin.

Food Lion is testing self-scanners at nine stores in the south, said spokeswoman Wendy Melton.

Martin's shopper Adam Paul, 42, of Hagerstown, said he was willing to give it a try.

"You don't have to have cashiers give you attitude," he said.

Amy Collins wondered if the technology would eliminate jobs such as her husband's.

"This is scary," she said.

Curtin said grocery stores still need plenty of real, live people to do everything from providing customer service to stocking shelves.

"This is not designed to replace employees," he said.

Martin's Grocery Manager Desmond Durning said he was surprised at how eager customers were to try the self-checkout, which works best for smaller shopping trips.

"The younger people are just jumping all over it," he said. The use of the lines freed up cashiers to handle people with fuller grocery carts.

Durning hopes it catches on, or the forecast for the first snowfall of the winter could result in disaster because there will be four fewer stations to handle the crowds who want to stock up before the storm.

Not everyone at Martin's was thrilled with the technology.

"I've never seen it before and I don't know how it works," said Mary Lidie, 37, of Hagerstown, who bypassed four empty self-checkout lines to wait for a cashier.

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