Sainsbury’s has begun testing a new ‘Scan & Go’ smartphone app that allows customers to scan items as they shop rather than at the till.

The app syncs with your Nectar card so at the checkout you simply swipe your card and it registers all the items you have scanned. Payment is then made in the normal way.

Scan & Go is currently being trialled with a limited number of Nectar cardholders at two Local stores in London and a supermarket in Hampshire.

Luckily one of the stores involved in the Sainsbury’s pilot scheme is round the corner from the Econsultancy office in Clerkenwell, so I popped in to give it a go…

Usability

To begin using the app, which is available on iPhone and Android, you need to enter your Nectar card number and an email address.

Upon entering the store you then scan a QR code positioned next to the door to begin shopping.

                       

To add a product to your basket you need to scan the barcode on the item, which should be a simple enough process but actually takes quite a long time.

When I tested it, the app recognised the barcodes within a couple of seconds but then took at least 10 seconds to load the product information into my basket.

This could be because the app has to download information using 3G, in which case Sainsbury’s may have to invest in Wi-Fi in all its stores to ensure that the app performs well. 

The process of removing items is even more annoying. No longer can you just pick up an unwanted item from your trolley and put it back on the shelf.

Instead you have to scan the item’s barcode again, wait another 10 seconds, then put it back.

This might be a clever way of putting people off taking items out of their shopping basket, but from a usability point of view it would be preferable if you could just highlight an item and click a button to remove it from your list.

                       

Once you’ve finished shopping you have to click ‘Finish & Pay’, scan a QR code at the till, and then swipe your Nectar card. 

This automatically uploads the contents of your shopping basket so you can just pay, pack your bags and go.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that Scan & Go is still in beta so Sainsbury’s will no doubt be upgrading it based on customer feedback, but there are several usability issues that need to be fixed.

I’ve already mentioned the fact that the app is far too slow. Waiting 10 seconds for it to upload items to your basket seems like an eternity in a busy shop.

Similarly, requiring customers to re-scan items to remove them from the basket is frustrating and seems unnecessary.

But on top of that, the calls to action need to be changed as they’re small and quite easy to miss. In comparison, Tesco’s app uses big, bright CTAs that make it far easier for the user to know what to do next.

                       

Also, even though Scan & Go is integrated with your Nectar card you can’t actually access your account information within the app. It would be useful to be able to see how many points you currently have, and how much you earn from each shop.

However, my main criticism of the app is that Sainsbury’s simply hasn’t been ambitious enough.

Waitrose has been running a similar scheme in some of its stores for more than 10 years, the only difference being that it hands out scanners at the entrance rather than relying on customers to use a smartphone app.

For Sainsbury’s app to be a real step forward it should have done away with the need for a Nectar card altogether. The barcode could sit within the app so customers could just scan it at the checkout to register their items.

Also, why not allow customers to store their credit card details within the app so they can pay with one-click rather than having to queue up and pay in the usual way?

Then customers could just load up their bags and leave, removing another step in the checkout process.

So, though it’s good to see Sainsbury’s trialling new technologies in-store I feel they’ve missed a trick by not being more ambitious.