Sainsburys and app to scan and pay: supermarket optimization

Posted on November 2, 2012


David Stone, a Mobile Marketing expert pointed out to me that Sainsbury’s, one of the huge chain supermarkets here in the UK, has started trials of a “scan and pay” system using mobile phones. The Marketing week story is below.

I am a great supporter of this type of system,  and of course it is a direct descendant of the scan and pay systems that use(d) dedicated scanners, of which there have been many examples, some of which remain in use,  but many died.

The idea is a good one,  you scan the items as you place them in your bags in the trolley   It helps you understand your spend,  and most likely will also make offers to you based on what you’ve bought today,  and in the past (it is tied to their Nectar loyalty card system).  Then you go to a checkout, present the QR code the app generates and present it to the checkout,  and then pay.  Faster, easier and saves a lot of the time in queues.  I suspect they also know how to clamp down on theft.

What I’d like to point out though is the “friction” of using bar codes.  Using them goes a little like this

  1. start the camera (app does this for you),
  2. manually set the range so that this code is within the reading zone
  3. wait for the camera to auto focus
  4. take the picture
  5. app then reads the bar code and if unsuccessful ask you to try again,
    which means go back to step one, because your hands would have moved during all this.

It is this friction that will drive people mad, and made worse for bar codes that are not on a flat surface, or are low in contrast, like that in the picture.

Would be good to have a phone holder on the trolley so that I can just pass the bar code under the phone,  ohh wait, no can’t do that, as I have to align it and take the shot.


I sincerely hope they are able to remove these potential difficulties, because anything that prevents the long queues for payment would be good with me.


I have held off using NFC or RFID,  but cannot resist,  if they could afford to put an RFID/NFC tag on everything that would be the lowest friction,  but you could just put them on the shelf front, under the price, so that you can scan the shelf and not the product, this would be far far better than the camera based solution,  but hey what do I know.

But come on Sainsburys, could do better,  and at the same time,  keep up the good work !




Posted in: mobile