On holiday this summer in the Vendée region (near the Loire valley), I was pleasantly surprised by my till receipt for my holiday shopping. Instead of a list in simple order of items scanned by the cashier, the receipt was both grouped by department, and ordered by highest priced item first. At a glance, you can see which items from each department are the most expensive, and which departments you bought the most goods from.
In the past, till receipts were printed line by line first mechanically – possibly with mechanical tabulation (addition of next item to subtotal) inside the machine – then by fairly dumb electronic calculators which would do much the same. More recently, bar code scanning meant the machines queried a database for the item price. Later, the item name would be queried and printed (initially a few characters per item) and yet the basic running totals and chronological ordering have still to change in many supermarkets and other stores where you buy a lot of items.
Behind the scenes, no doubt accounting has been done by department for some time. It’s a relatively small jump from a flat database lookup to allowing classification by groups of products. This, to my knowledge, is standard practice for any self respecting supermarket manager / category manager. I’m fascinated to see just how long it has taken to expose these groups to the customer in a useful way. Buffering the data scanned and making a single printout at the end has surely long been within the technical capability of many point of sales devices, since back office equipment and even individual tills have been able to do it for some time. Fast printing of hundreds of lines of text has been possible for well over a decade.
I see several advantages to this approach. Customers get a clear receipt, even if errors are made while scanning or products are cancelled (these need not show on a final receipt, but will create ugly correction lines on “print a line after every item is scanned” receipts). If any goods are bought in multiples, they need not be scanned together at the same time and relevant multi-buy discounts can be neatly added in the same place. Most of all, you leave the store with a feeling that you might want to keep the receipt a bit longer and look at your purchases a bit more carefully. Perhaps even in store, you might notice that you have been billed twice for expensive items because of scanning error. You may be on a tight budget and readable receipts surely help money management at the end of the month. Most of all, errors at tills are commonplace but it’s terribly difficult to see the errors while stressing to pack up your shopping. Kudos to Super U (France) for this little innovation which I think is a real customer pleaser. Now if only the database people could put decent descriptions in for products, instead of “ENM PAST 32%MG U BIO 250G”.