How Grocery Scanners Work

By Lashon Fryer

How Grocery Scanners Work

Quick Check-Out

A grocery store scanner can read, decode and charge consumers in a matter of seconds. Every grocery store scanner is a bar code scanner equipped with a laser beam light that translates the binary code of every UPC into its coinciding price. When the items are scanned at the register, the UPC code is identified from the database and the price is entered into the register, almost simultaneously. Each UPC code has been assigned a price that has been stored into the grocers database.


Any item you find in a grocery store, from nectarines to a bar of soap, has its own Universal Product Code, or UPC, somewhere on the label. The UPC code consists of two parts: the barcode that is read by the register and the barcode visible to the human eye, (which is a 12-digit number). The first six digits of any UPC identify the manufacturer, the next five digits identify the product, and the last digit is referred to as a check digit. Some UPC codes are short, usually eight digits, but that is only because the shorter UPC has "suppressed the zeros," meaning the four missing numbers would have been a series of zeros. This particular barcode is usually reserved for the smaller products like an individual soda.

Price Changes

The price of the product is not hidden anywhere in the UPC code. Grocery stores change their prices constantly. The price of any product can be changed a lot quicker by just entering a new price into the database for the corresponding UPC barcode.
Grocery store scanners also work to make inventory a lot easier. When the scanner scans a product, it also, records and removes the product from the inventory. In addition, the grocery store scanner can be programmed to remove certain UPC codes from the database when the bar code has been retired or when the store has run out of a certain product.

Grocery Scanners Success Rate

Grocery store scanners were created to save the consumers and the cashier time. However, they cannot catch human error. There are plenty of distractions that go on at a grocery store checkout, and the consumer or the cashier cannot be expected to ensure that every item scans at the correct price. The grocery store, or chain, is responsible for entering pricing into the database, so they are also accountable for pricing errors. No scanning system is perfect, but according to a survey conducted by the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services, scanners have a 99 percent success rate. In the few incidents where there was a pricing error, because sale prices, or regular pricing, were entered wrong by the store, the error was usually in the favor of the consumer. (See Resources.)

The History of Grocery Scanners

The first grocery store scanner was introduced in the early 1970s by Kroger Grocery Store. The scanner was created to eliminate long lines and the wait at the checkout. In the early scanner days, what is now known as the UPC codes, was referred to as "bull's-eye codes". The "bull's-eye codes" ended the era of cashiers keying every item number manually.