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As more retailers are integrating handheld scanners into their stores, anecdotal evidence has been mixed regarding whether or not the devices increase consumer sales.

Stephanie Noble, marketing professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, has written a study examining this question.

“The Sales Impact of Using Handheld Scanners: Evidence from the Field,” published in April in the Journal of Marketing Research, indicates that the sales effects of the scanners may be impacted by factors such as consumer budget. Dhruv Grewal (Babson College), Carl-Philip Ahlbom (University of Bath) and Jens Nordfält (University of Bath) co-authored the paper with Noble.

Analyzing data from three field studies–which utilized eye-tracking technology and matched sales receipts–as well as two lab studies, the authors investigated the effects of the handheld scanners commonly used in retail environments such as supermarkets. These devices allow customers to scan and bag each item as they go, and then pay at the end of their shopping trip. The researchers found that for consumers who shop without a budget, use of the scanners tends to decrease sales while for those with a budget, handheld scanner usage increases sales, particularly of impulse purchases.

The study revealed that using handheld scanners causes budget-minded shoppers to move through the aisles at a slower pace, paying more attention to shelf information as they approach and touch the products. For these consumers, the scanning process offers a sense of control over their purchase decisions and budgets, resulting in greater shopping enjoyment.

“Both touching inventory and shopping enjoyment lead to increased sales by increasing the likelihood that an item gets placed in the consumer’s shopping cart,” Noble said. “More impulse purchases also result from close proximity and touching.”

Because research indicates that as many as 90 percent of consumers shop with either an implicit or explicit budget, these findings are likely to have widespread implications for a large segment of the consumer population and for the stores where they shop.

“Some retail managers might worry that the use of scanners helps consumers look more aggressively for sale items, but our results assuage these fears,” Noble said, noting that the average price per item did not differ across the consumers studied. “Instead, the number of items purchased—and notably, unplanned purchases—increased when consumers used scanners.”

With these results in mind, Noble said, retailers might consider posting signage that encourages customers to be mindful of their budgets and outlines the advantages of scanning items as they shop. In addition to helping consumers keep from exceeding their budgets, this type of onsite communication can benefit the retailer as well. Shoppers can accurately tally their purchases and spend nearly all of their budgets, rather than guessing how much they’re spending and decreasing their purchase amounts to be on the safe side.

As another benefit for budget-conscious shoppers, using handheld scanners has been shown to ensure pricing accuracy.

“When employees use traditional checkout scanners, consumers often fail to receive advertised discounts and are overcharged,” Noble said. “Handheld scanners offer a solution, in that consumers can instantly verify that prices on the shelf coincide with those tallied by the scanner.”

“The Sales Impact of Using Handheld Scanners: Evidence from the Field” is available in the April 2020 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research and online.



Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist,