Walmart has a new buy-and-go app. We tested it. Here’s what worked — and didn’t.

Kim Mathewson uses a handheld scanner to buy a package of ground chicken at the Walmart in Meridian on Thursday. It was her first time using the system. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Kim Mathewson uses a handheld scanner to buy a package of ground chicken at the Walmart in Meridian on Thursday. It was her first time using the system. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said.

When Walmart announced this week that shoppers at a Meridian store could now scan prices on items as they shop and skip the checkout, I decided to test it.

I drove to the store at 4051 E. Fairview Ave. — the only Treasure Valley location that has the technology so far.

You can use the technology in one of two ways. You can pick up a hand-held Scan & Go scanner from kiosks set up near both front entrances to the store, and there’s also a phone app for iPhones and Androids.

I downloaded the Android version and found it ready to go as soon as I parked my car.

The app and scanner work much the same as a cash register scanner does. You push a button to scan the item’s bar code. On your phone, the app uses your camera for this. The screen keeps track of each item, identifying the price charged.

Fruits and vegetables sold by the pound must be weighed, as in a regular store. Alcohol, tobacco products and prescriptions must go through a traditional check stand or self-checkout stand.

The store provides bags at the entrance so you can bag your purchases as soon as you scan them.

When you’re ready to pay, you go to an area with Scan & Go check stands. Your scanner or app scans a code on the check-stand screen. The data from your phone or scanner transfers to the register and displays the total. Just as at at a self-service check stand, you can use cash, a card or a phone-payment app to pay.

Scan & Go is touted as a way to save time at checkout. I’m not sure it saved me any, though.

The first three items I picked up — a package of fresh strawberries, a bag of oranges and a pineapple — all scanned fine. Each had a barcode label.

I was surprised when a box of Falls Brand bacon failed to scan. I spent a couple of minutes trying to get the app to recognize the bar code, to no avail. I had to manually punch in the numbers from the bar code to load it into the app. It was the same with smoked sausage packaged in soft plastic, and with a plastic bottle of dish soap.

I rarely have a problem having items ring up properly in self-checkout stands. Experience suggests that a check stand scanner would have had no trouble with those items. And it would have taken less time.

There may still be some bugs to work out, but Walmart says Scan & Go is popular. Nearly 80 percent of customers who have tried the system have used it again within 90 days, Walmart representative Alysa Schols said.

“Shoppers love the convenience of skipping the checkout line,” she told me.

Boise resident Kim Mathewson, who, like me, was trying the system for the first time Thursday, said she enjoyed it. “I can bag things the way I want,” she said.

The service was installed in the Meridian store almost three weeks ago, and the company allowed time to make sure it worked smoothly before announcing it. It’s one of 120 stores in 33 states with the technology. Walmart hasn’t yet announced plans for expanding the service to other stores in Idaho.

Fred Meyer announced late last month that it will install its similar Scan, Bag, Go technology in 26 stores in 2018. So far, it hasn’t announced which stores will get the scanning devices. Like Walmart, Fred Meyer will employ hand-held scanners and phone apps.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell