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Symbol Technologies Personal Shopper MC16
Industrial Design
This Personal Shopper Terminal has been the breakthrough device in the scan-your-own-while-you-shop market of big retailers. We have worked on this (and all follow-up generations) since 1998. We started back in the days of black and white display technology, few hundred pixels on the screen. However, tis was truly disruptive technology and nobody was able to compete with Symbol Technologies on the size of their scanners, the ruggedization and overall technical brilliance.
What we did not have, however, was a grasp of what shoppers really wanted to see in a self-scanning system. What are acceptable screen size, ergonomics/grip etc
What do the retailers need to make the system an attractive proposition to traditional checkout lanes, how much real estate are they willing to sacrifice to the implementation?
Where does it need to fit, what about the charging and return of the units, the furniture.
How do you mount these things to shopping carts?
What about the return process at the end of a shopping trip?
The list goes on... here is how we resolved this complex riddle...
The PSS was purposefully designed to look unintimidating and avoid any gun-like comparisons.  Last thing anyone wanted was for kids to be running around playing cops & robbers in the supermarket with the scanner!
Where do you start with a brand new product category?  Prototype, test, iterate.
There was no precedent for a supermarket personal shopping scanner (PSS), so all form factors were on the table.  Was a large screen necessary to organise your shop?  Was a handle needed to grip the product securely?  How many buttons are needed?
Most importantly, we had to prove to some upper management decision makers that one should not use a mobile phone-like device with a miniature 12 character display in a rack as the solution.
"We know what the people want" will always stick in the back of my head, as clearly the exec was proven wrong (he wanted to push his existing OEM phone!). In those days Nokia still ruled, but a mobile phone did neither provide intuitive scanning, nor was the display large enough, not were they build to rugged specs.
The functional prototype designs shown here were tested with focus groups in staged shopping setups, while we observed behind mirror screens. What people do and what they tell you (what they think they did) are two different stories. While we as designers might have been biased towards a favourite, the tests were conducted by independent research inststiutes, hence objectivity of the results was guaranteed.
A 'remote control' type body would be the clear winner, so we thought internally, but we were proven wrong.
So nothing is more important than testing and knowing your customers. The rest is simply details and implementation.
Is grip more important than features? Is the display better viewed in landscape vs portrait? How securely do you need to hold it while scanning groceries?
How do you insert the unit from a cradle, how do you mount it on a shopping cart.
Questions over questions and many long nights & brainstorm sessions designing concepts that try to solve the riddle...
This Version was a 'gun without being a gun'. By tilting the handle back by 90 degreees, you still have a secure grip and you have a primary index finger trigger for ease of scanning & aiming. A secondary interface operated by your thumb, provides another layer of interaction. This design proved to be quick, secure and efficient.
90% of all test subjects both in the US and Europe market testing named this as their first choice. We knew we had a clear winner. From that moment, it all went into implementation mode, which took another year to bring the design to market, as furniture, entrance terminals and shopping cart mounts needed to be designed as a complete system.
Equally important to the success of the PSS is the infrastructure that supports it.
The cradle is the first thing the consumer is presented with and so needs to be intuitive and accessible or it could turn off the user from any repeat experiences. Additionally it needs to be placed where you can see the PSS units when you first walk into a cluttered store, so the entrance area is a key!
The furniture/cradles need to be modular so that the store can design a layout that fits their needs (or add on to the system at any given point).
The highest implementation of scanners was 500 units in one store - huge area of wall covered with these things!
From a retailer perspective, not only do the cradles need to be quick and easy to install, but floor space can be at a premium, so cradles need to be as densely packed as possible, whilst still being accessible to users or different heights.
Equally important is the security of the scanners themselves; not only do you need to prevent devices from being stolen, but also prevent the removal of devices still charging.  Each cradle has an electromagnetic relay which pushes a secure tab into a recess on the scanner handle.
The system also needs to be smart enough to release to the shopper the unit with the most charged battery.
When faced with a long row of available scanners, how do find yours?  Supermarkets can be bright, noisy and full of distractions, so the front housing of the cradle was made translucent and lit by 2 rows of 3 high power LEDs. 
However, developing a translucent housing was not as simple as a colour specification to the manufacturers.  All the internal ribs and moulding flaws would be prominently visible (especially when lit from behind), so a close collaboration with the engineers was particularly important to balance the needs of a functional and aesthetic solution.
The entrance stations proved to be quite difficult. Most supermarket chains these days have opted for their own custom implementation with touchscreens & magswipe/card readers.
There has to be a ratio of scanners to one entrance head to find your unit and avoid crowding during busy checkout times such on a Saturday morning.
Flexibility for the supermarket chains as customer is key to the success of PSS.
Keeping the handle clean and relatively low complexity helps avoid any unwanted surface defects or sudden transitions.  This way, the handle is kept comfortably smooth for all users.
Weight distribution is important to ensure a handle that feels snug and secure in your hand; if the weight is too far forward, the device feels like it's constantly on the verge of slipping out.  The components still needed to go into the device, so the relationship between the battery in the handle and the PCB & other components in the head was finely tuned to keep a good balance.
The PSS was designed before intelligent cradle management solutions and the system had no way of knowing where a scanner was in the cradle layout.  A way to sidestep this was to add a barcode to the overhang above the scanner head; this way the PSS would just use it's inherent ability to scan in order to return a code to the system informing it on its current location.
Any sort of recess is a perfect target to collect dust and liquid in retail environments, so drainage holes are often a subtle edition to designs. For the PSS cradle, the opening acts as both an alignment feature for the handle and as a drainage hole. However, adding an opening presented a potential pitfall with children hands being stuck, so the opening was artificially enlarged to help. The openings on the cradle sides and base are for adaptable cable routing and giving retailers more options for cradle layouts.
Scan your own... works a treat and has been implemented in most major supermarket chains and millions of users.
If you want to be in control, learn about special offers and avoid time wasted at the checkout tills, use PSS...
Symbol Technologies Personal Shopper MC16

Symbol Technologies Personal Shopper MC16

The Personal Shopper System is Symbol Technologies’ unique self-checkout scanning system. The device allows the customer to scan shopping items a Read More