I was standing in line at the local Albert Heijn1 the other day and had a futurist’s ‘epiphany’. I had three items in my basket. The couple in front of me had a shopping cart full of stuff. I had an empty stomach and was tired from a long day’s work. They were taking their time placing their items on the short conveyor belt. The cashier took her time scanning each individual item. The couple had a lot of stuff and only a few bags to put their stuff in. Did I mention this was taking a looong time?
I wasn’t being impatient though, I used the time to let my thoughts wander. For some reason my associative brain became occupied with RFID. Many of the items in the Albert Heijn shelves have RFID tags in them already. They use those to track inventory. Soon, all of the items will be tagged with these chips. That’ll make it easy to restock stuff. But it occurred to me that it might make the situation I was in at that moment (standing there waiting for a large amount of items to be moved from a cart, scanned and packed in bags to be placed back in the cart again) history.
Imagine driving your overflowing shopping cart through a stall and having all the items read simultaneously. If you’d wanted to get rid of the friendly cashier you could put automatic gates on the cash register and have them open once all items were paid for (by old-fashioned debit or credit card or newfangled RFID enabled payment token). Walk up to the gate, swipe your token past a reader and have the gate open, no matter how many items you have with you.
No more checking the receipt for items that were mistakenly scanned twice (or not scanned at all, if you’re that honest). No more waiting for people with too many stuff in their cart that they don’t really need. And no more underpaid pubescent cashiers to ruin your day with their bad manners!
Actually, would that ever happen? It would take a large amount of trust from everyone involved. There is a lot of trust implicitly involved in the whole exchange. Handing your stuff one after the other to an actual human being and having that person scan them is a very physical, tangible way to get a sense of what you’re paying for, and that you’re getting your money’s worth. With completely automated RFID-enabled shopping, that would be lost.
It’s a banal, pedestrian and simple example of how this stuff could change your everyday life, I know, but something to think about, nonetheless.
1. Albert Heijn is the largest super market chain in the Netherlands.