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Check Out the New Checkouts: When's My Turn?

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEE, Va., Jan. 10, 1997 – In these days of little time to waste, why do people wait until their order is bagged before they start writing the check? Why does the cashier have to enter every coupon by hand? Why does it take five swipes to scan a price? Why don't commissaries take credit cards?

Why, Why, Why?

Within the next two years, none of those "whys" will matter.

"This system is so fantastic, we can't get it out there fast enough," said Joe Nikolai a Defense Commissary Agency management specialist. "Fast enough" means bringing a cutting-edge checkout system to customers in 300 commissaries worldwide over the next two years.

The most visible service improvement for customers might be the ability to pay for groceries with the flick of a card. Although a few stores already take credit or debit cards, the new system will allow all commissaries to accept Visa, Mastercard, and Armed Forces Financial Network debit cards.

Still want to write a check? You might find that "writing" a check is a thing of the past. Just hand it over to the cashier and the register fills in the amount, the store, and the date. All you have to do is sign it.

The new checkout system is up and running in 12 commissaries. Nearly 50 stores are scheduled to be "live" by mid-1997 according to deputy program manager Donna Gaillard.

The checkout conversion is being accomplished with little inconvenience to customers, officials said. In stores closed two days each week, this has meant virtually no lost time. Those open six or seven days are being converted at night if possible, Gaillard said.

The checkout stands have a whole new look. Even the grocery receipts look different. They are thermally imprinted for greater legibility. Useful information such as the store location and hours can be placed at the top and bottom.

"You can also find the cashier's name, surcharge, the number of items you purchased, number of coupons you used and how much you saved with coupons," said Nikolai. "The receipt even tells how long it took the cashier to check your order."

The new system also has benefits not immediately noticeable to customers, including 270-degree scanners that can record "near misses" with speed and accuracy. Cashiers can now scan in the majority of coupons.

Construction of the new checkouts is better for customers and employees. Cashiers face the customers, and the reach across the scanner is shorter, making for faster scanning and less physical strain.

When commissary stores are on the system, DeCA will be equal to, or ahead of, many retail grocery chains. Part of the reason for this is the agency will make full use of all the system features whenever practical, said Nikolai.

Some of the "bells and whistles" the agency is testing include surveillance and cash management systems. More important for customers, officials are testing electronic shelf labeling and portable scanners. In stores deemed good candidates for those innovations, customers will gradually see the end of the "price check" at the register.

Portable scanners can be used anywhere in the store to add pricing information into the store's database, Nikolai said. "It's an unbelievable improvement for floor management," he said. Whenever a product is moved around the store or new product displays are built, the scanner transmits product and pricing information immediately to the store's master price list. In addition, Nikolai said, "portable scanners can cut inventory time by 25 percent, and we get a more accurate accounting."

The portables lessen the chance for labeling and price discrepancies on the shelves, a chief complaint from customers.

By mid-1997, Fort Belvoir, Va., and Hurlburt Field, Fla., will field-test electronic shelf labeling.

DeCA's immediate goal is to have the new checkout system in all stores within two years, and part of the challenge has been overcoming the worldwide nature of its business. "When we started in Europe, we didn't have all the communication lines in place yet," said Nikolai. "So we couldn't do credit cards." Now the lines are up and new implementations, such as Vogelweh Air Base in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in January, should have credit card services immediately. The same goes for the Pacific.

Tentative Installation Schedule

Commissary                                    Date

Vogelweh AB, Kaiserslautern, Germany          Jan. 24

Hurlburt Field, Fla.                          Jan. 27

Fort Belvoir, Va.                             Jan. 27

Edwards AFB, Calif.                           Jan. 28

Kodiak, Alaska                                Jan. 29

Charleston AFB, S.C.                          Feb. 4

Patuxent River NAS, Md.                       Feb. 11

Patch Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany            Feb. 12

Mountain Home AFB, Idaho                      Feb. 19

Brooks AFB, Texas                             Feb. 19

U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.            Feb. 25

Fort Stewart, Ga.                             Feb. 25

Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill.       Feb. 25

Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany           Feb. 25

Panzer Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany           Feb. 25

Andrews AFB, Md.                              March 4

Cairo, Egypt                                  March 7

Tyndall AFB, Fla.                             March 11

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington   March 11

Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center, Va.    March 11

Goodfellow AFB, Texas                         March 17

Chievres AB, Belgium                          March 18

Dover AFB, Del.                               March 18

Ramstein AB, Germany                          March 25

Port Hueneme, Calif.                          March 25

Fort Riley, Kan.                              April 15

McConnell AFB, Kan.                           May 15

Schofield Barracks, Hawaii                    May 15

Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va.              May 15

(Powell is a writer for the Defense Commissary Agency in Fort Lee, Va.)

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