Coming soon: Pay for your groceries via fingerprints

So-called "electronic wallets" have been installed in 2,500 checkout lanes at Albertsons, Supervalu and CVS stores, allowing customers to let their finger do the paying. Customers' fingerprint images and credit card information have been preregistered into the stores' computer systems.

The James Bond-like technology guards against fraud and cuts retailers' processing costs, says Pay By Touch, the San Francisco-based company that sells the system.

"It takes two seconds. ... No more fishing in your wallet or purse for credit cards," said company spokesman Ryan Ross.

The electronic technology, which costs about $200 per checkout lane, was one of the futures envisioned for the corner supermarket at the recent Food Marketing Institute convention.

Other concepts included computer kiosks that spew out recipes keyed to customers' food purchases, and computer screens attached to shopping carts for scanning goods and directing shoppers to sales items.

About 200 exhibitors in the $457 billion grocery store industry showed their wares to supermarket executives at the San Diego Convention Center show.

Analysts said the cutthroat supermarket industry is causing traditional grocers to evaluate dozens of futuristic devices in hopes of cutting costs and attracting consumers.

The grocery business is being squeezed by a surge in convenience foods sales, from fast-food sandwiches and prepackaged dinners at neighborhood boutique markets to grocery sales at Wal-Mart stores.

Indeed, the restaurant industry's share of the U.S. food dollar has climbed to 46.4 percent, up from 25 percent in 1955, according to the National Restaurant Association.

"Technology is going to reshape the food industry, although it's still too early to tell which formats will win," said Ted Taft, managing director at Meridian Consulting in Connecticut.

None of the flashiest products at the convention, which is not open to the public, has yet to hit area retail aisles.

But if the test-marketing is successful, it could be a matter of months before shoppers here are paying with their fingerprints and consulting in-store computer consoles for advice, analysts said.

One such device is the U-Scan Shopper, a small computer console attached to the top pushbar of the shopping cart.

The electronic screen - developed by Fujitsu of Frisco, Texas, and Klever Marketing of Bountiful, Utah - allows customers to scan products as they're putting the cans and other goods in the cart, instead of at the checkout counter. The customer bags the groceries in the cart while shopping.

A customer, when finished shopping, must take the bagged groceries out of the cart and weigh them at a self-checkout stand. The computer knows the approximate weight of the scanned items - a shoplifting deterrent.

Other features of U-Scan Shopper include a store directory, a recipe library, and the capability to order sandwiches from the deli (the screen notifies the customer when the food's ready) and to place refill orders at the pharmacy.

Moreover, the console alerts shoppers when they have come close to sales items.

"We'll have 35 to 40 sensors throughout the store letting customers know when, say, they're next to the special of the day," said Arthur Portugal, president of Klever Marketing.

The company will soon begin test-marketing the U-Scan Shopper.

For Southern California consumers still reeling from high gas prices, Excentus may be showcasing the best technology on the convention floor.

The company, based in Irving, Texas, partners with supermarkets with gasoline pumps outside to give fuel discounts to customers who buy food and then fill 'er up.

Purchasing a can of spaghetti, for instance, can bring a 3-cent-a-gallon savings on gas, said Excentus spokesman Brandon Logsdon.

Some supermarkets in the Midwest and the East are already using the technology.

Customers take their supermarket discount receipt for scanning at the pump.
"You get to watch while the price of gasoline rolls down in real time," Logsdon said.

© Copley News Service

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