Re-design: Costco Checkout

Even though we don’t buy that many things in bulk, my wife and I love Costco. The one part that stinks is checking out.

Checkout at Costco is like sitting in a traffic jam, especially on Saturday morning. Costco employees try to check people out quickly, but most people have large carts filled with a lot of items.

Recently, I realized our local grocery stores and libraries have electronic self-checkout, but Costco does not. In fact, the local library is only self-checkout now.

The library, in fact, uses RFID instead of barcode scanners. With RFID, each book has a small, embedded sensor. Instead of scanning each book, you simply stack all your books on top of the checkout stand, and the computer immediately recognizes all the books you have.

Imagine a Costco with RFID. Instead of having to lift each of your items onto the conveyor belt (and then have the cashier put them back into your cart), you simply push your full cart past a sensor, and the computer tallies the items and recognizes the new RFID member card (included in your $50 annual membership) in your pocket. You pay the cashier and take your cart out to the car.

RFID technology is a little too expensive to put a sensor on every individual can of soda and pack of gum, but RFID has been used for years to track large palettes of product as they’re shipped on ships, trains, and trucks.

Since Costco deals mostly in bulk items (large cases of soda instead of six-packs), perhaps the economics of RFID can work for them.