In New York, One-Third Of Grocery Price Scanners Fail

Nearly one-third of checkout price scanners in New York City grocery stores are inaccurate. That's one of the findings reported this month (August 18) by the city's Department of Consumer Affairs after a year-long inspection sweep of supermarkets. The bad scanners were in grocery stores ranging from small independents to major chains, although ironically the smallest convenience stores--what New Yorkers call "bodegas"--actually had fewer problems than full-service grocery stores.

Sometimes it's hard for IT to demonstrate cost and value to retailers in hard dollars. This isn't one of those times. A faulty scanner costs money when it's caught by a city inspector--as much as $700 per scanner. That's on top of fixing the scanner and whatever extra time is required when checkers have to key in prices by hand.

The bad scanners were the second-most-common reason for the stores being fined, after items that didn't have price tags, according to a Department of Consumer Affairs spokesperson.

But the high failure rate for price scanners is something to worry about. It suggests one of two things: Either supermarket IT departments are intentionally deferring maintenance on price-scanning equipment or it simply doesn't occur to IT that these devices need regular checking.

With most retail technology, failures are just an internal problem for the retailer. If kiosks don't work or theft-prevention scanners fail, employees generally end up handling the problems and smoothing out the shortcomings of the technology.

Faulty price scanners, though, fall into a different category. They cost money when a scanner fails and a checker has to key in product numbers. They cost more money when the scanner fails a city inspection. Still more money is on the line if some enterprising lawyer launches a class-action lawsuit.

If that isn't enough to push scanner maintenance up the priority list, this might help: The stores that had the lowest failure rate for scanners were bodegas, the independent "corner stores" with product selection too limited to qualify as supermarkets. Those are the stores that keep their scanners working the best--and they don't even have real IT departments.