Cash, Charge or Cheque?

Before electronic, price lookup terminals showed up, cashiers has to contend with Swedas. Cashiers had to (and I remember this because I had to know how to do this). ~Bill


  • Separate the taxable items, from the non-taxable items.


  • The machine had 7 or 8 columns of vertical buttons, arranged from zero at the bottom to nine at the top. They were colour coded. These buttons where mechanical. You had to apply some force to depress each one.


  • Towers tickets were made up the CLASS, ITEM and PRICE. The CLASS, or department, would identify a category of products -- like candy. The 3-digit ITEM number would identify a specific product in that department -- like a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar.


  • Cashiers had to enter the each piece of information one a time. It was commonly referred to as "3-pass" entry.


  • Starting with the first taxable item, they would press the ITEM button. Then, moving their index finger swiftly up and down, enter the item number. It meant (counting from the right) entering the first digit in column 4, the second digit in column 3, and so on. Experienced cashiers would zip up and down -- their fingernails making clicky noises as they flew over the keys. Once done entering the item number, they would press the big "ENTER" button on the far right. The cash register would go ca-chunk. The numbers would appear (white against a black background) in the mechanical display at the top of the machine. 


  • Next came the class number. Cashiers would press the CLASS button and enter (just as described above) this 3-digit number and press the ENTER button. Ca-chunk.


  • Finally, the PRICE would be entered.


  • When the ENTER button was pressed for the last time, a little bit of the customer receipt would peak out (with that item printed on it) and, unseen, a computer paper tape on the right side of the machine would be punched with little dots. (These tapes would be sent in daily for computer processing at the Head Office.)


  • The cashier would then move on to the next item.


  • I don't recall a way of repeating the transaction if a customer was buying two or three of the same item.


  • Once all the taxable items were done, the cashier would press the SUBTOTAL button. Using a chart, the cashier would then manually calculate the tax, press the TAX button and enter the amount.

  •  The cashier would then move on to the non-taxable items.

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Food firm checks out 'robot' counters

by Kenneth Kidd (The Globe and Mail February 28, 1990)


A major supermarket chain is about to start testing Canada's first do-It-yourself' checkout counters — called Checkrobots.


With the new-style counters, shoppers move their own cans of soup and bottles of bleach over an electronic scanner that reads the product code on the package. Then they pick up their sales slip and take it to a cashier.


Oshawa Group Ltd. of Toronto will introduce the checkout counters next month at one its Food City stores in Brampton, Ont.


“1 think there will be a group of customers who enjoy using these terminals.“ said Douglas Stewart, president of the group's Oshawa Foods division.


With Checkrobots, the scanning unit also doubles as a scale for produce to be weighed before the price is calculated. Shoppers press a button to indicate what fruit or vegetable Is being weighed.


"Whatever's in the store will be in that machine,“ company spokesman Sam Crystal said.


As the purchases are scanned, the price appears on a TV screen overhead. The groceries then travel along a conveyor belt and under a security bar. which "knows the shape and weight of every product," Mr. Crystal said.


“If anything is inconsistent, (the conveyor belt) stops and backs up." The TV screen then asks the shopper try again.


Oshawa Group operates about 100 supermarkets under the Food City, IGA and Dutch Boy names. It also owns Towers and Bonimart department stores, Drug City and Metro Drugs stores and outlets operating under the name Pharma Plus Drugmarts. It also supplies other retail food and drug outlets.


At the Brampton test store it will test four do-it-yourself' checkout lanes, which will feed into a single cashier. There, any coupons will be deducted from the total bill.


Eight traditional checkouts will stay in operation. "Some people like to handle their purchases right through," Mr. Crystal said. For those who don't. “there will always be (regular) cashiers."


Whether the new system will ultimately prove more efficient is open to question.


“It takes a lot of education for the public” said an industry analyst, who asked not to be identified. “You end up doing much work as a shopper."


The system has been tested since October of 1988 by Publix Super Markets Inc. of Lakeland, Florida. But the chain has, not yet decided whether to make it a more common feature at its 370 stores.


Younger, late-night shoppers appear to like the new checkouts, especially when they have only a few items to pick up a Publix spokesman said. Some older customers are also smitten with them, he added.


One advantage of the terminals, especially at stores open 24 hours a day, is that “these lanes will always be open," Mr. Crystal said.


Oshawa Group says the new checkouts are not meant primary as a cost-saving device. “We don't really see it as a threat to jobs," Mr. Stewart said.


The checkouts, developed by Checkrobot Inc. of Deerfield Beach, Florida, cost $20,000 to $25,000 each, about four times the cost of installing a more traditional checkout counter.