CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kroger has begun using new computer sensor technology in its grocery stores to reduce the time customers must wait in checkout lines to pay for their groceries.
By the end of the year, Kroger expects to complete installing the new computer sensors in 2,424 supermarkets across the country.
"The system doesn't collect any personally identifiable characteristics, thereby avoiding resistance to being tracked in ways that may record shopping decisions and other data," explained Allison McGee, a Kroger spokeswoman from Kroger's offices in Roanoke, Va. "The system simply registers a blob of heat."
Que Vision, a new technology developed by a British firm, counts the number of customers entering a store, standing in checkout lines and then leaving.
"Using data collected, the system predicts how many checkout registers will need to be open," McGee said.
Throughout the mid-Atlantic region, Kroger has reduced the waiting time from four minutes a few years ago to just 27 seconds today between the time a shopper gets in line and begins putting groceries on the conveyor belt, according to the company.
Carl York, a Kroger spokesman, said Que Vision systems are already operating in Charleston area, including stores in Kanawha City, Ashton Place and the West Side.
"Large computer screens are already in there. Look up at the front end of our stores. There are bubbles with numbers that tell us ahead of time how many check-out lanes should be open," York said Monday.
"Our stores are busy. It is not necessarily something you would notice. We try to do a lot of things to enhance the experience of customers that they may not notice."
All 120 Kroger stores in the mid-Atlantic region -- including West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio -- have already been equipped with overhead infrared sensors to count customers.
Computer screens at the front of these stores have three yellow bubbles showing customers the constantly changing data about the number of checkout lanes operating, the number needed and the number expected to be needed in 30 minutes.
The new infrared technology "monitors customers as they walk in," York said. "We crunch the numbers to see how long it takes the typical shopper to finish shopping and get up to the front lines.
"Some years back, we took on a 'Customer First' strategy. We did some focus groups around the country and found customers were frustrated with waiting in line too long. It made us as a company look into this," York said.
The new computer monitoring systems keep 30 minutes ahead of checkout traffic, McGee said, considering typical customer shopping patterns.
"For example, a Saturday afternoon customer is likely to take longer, shopping for the week ahead, while a customer shopping at 5:30 p.m. on Friday is more likely to make a quick stop to pick up a beverage for the weekend," McGee said.