Coles trialled scanning of barcodes at checkouts for the first time in 1982 but it was some years before the system was introduced at all checkouts. It wasn’t the first supermarket in Australia to use scanning technology. That initiative was taken by SIMs supermarket in Footscray, Melbourne, which introduced scanning in 1979. In 1990 Franklins became the first chain to use scanners in all its stores. Other chains followed soon afterwards.
Coles had been a party to the formation of the Australian Product Numbering Association in 1978, along with other major retailers including Woolworths, Myer, Safeway, Foodland and McEwens. Leading manufacturers participating in the project in the early days included Reckitt and Colman, Carnation, Quaker Products, Rowntree Hoadley and Stanley Tools.
Initially, customers were wary of the new technology. This led to the development of a code of conduct promising that, if the scanner indicated a price higher than was shown on the shelf, the customer would receive the product free.
While Coles was not the first to have checkout operators scanning barcodes, it was among the first to introduce self-scanning in 2004. By 2020, about half the supermarket’s sales were via self-scanning rather than through traditional checkouts.
In 2020, Woolworths began trialling a checkout-free system, which required customers to scan items with their phones as they load groceries into their trolleys. The system, called “Scan-and-Go” was rolled out into many Woolworths supermarkets in 2022. Many are predicting that checkout-free shopping will become the norm within ten years.