Albert Heijn RFID epiphany

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.