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Speed through the checkout with just a wave of your arm

Valerie Elliot / London Times | October 10 2006

Shoppers could soon pay for goods using a microchip implanted under the skin

IT MAY sound like a sci-fi fantasy but shoppers may one day be able to pay their grocery bills using a microchip implanted in their body.

The idea is already catching on with today’s iPod generation. According to research released today by the Institute for Grocery Distribution (IGD), a retail think-tank, almost one in ten teenagers and one in twenty adults are willing to have a microchip implanted to pay shop bills and help to prevent card or identity fraud and muggings.

A quick scan of the arm would connect immediately to bank details and payments could be made swiftly. Such microchips are already used in cats, dogs and horses. They are used in cattle and sheep so that consumers can trace their food from farm to plate and are also being used to help to combat drugs counterfeiting.

But now the retail industry is looking at body chips among a range of biometric payment methods, including fingerprint and iris recognition. So far the only example of a human body chip being used is at the VIP Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, where people wear bikinis and shorts and there is nowhere to carry wallets and purses.

The club offers clients a microchip, injected in the arm, which gives them access to certain areas of the club and acts as a payment method at the bar. This chip, made by the VeriChip Corporation, is a glass capsule about the size of a grain of rice, which sits under the skin. It carries a ten-digit personal number that can be linked to a person’s bank account, and has been a success at the club.

Geraldine Padbury, senior business analyst at IGD, accepts that many consumers will have concerns about their privacy, but says that teenagers, the next generation of shoppers, will have far fewer concerns about using the body chips.

She said: “With teenagers happy to use MySpace (the networking website) and blogs to share details of their private lives, there may be less concern surrounding privacy than for other generations.”

However, she believes that supermarkets will look at using fingerprint and iris recognition for the immediate future. One in five teenagers and one in nine adults in the study made clear that they would like to pay using these biometric methods. These methods were more popular than paying by mobile phone because of concerns about the high level of mobile phone theft.

There is already a pay-by-touch experiment under way at the Midcounties Co-operative in Oxford, where a finger scan is linked to a bank account. This system is used by more than 2.3 million shoppers in the US and also allows them to cash cheques in stores. Fingerprint recognition is used at Ben-Gurion airport in Israel, rather than making passengers stand in a check-in queue.

The research also gives supermarket bosses a clear warning that they will have to speed up shopping trips. In the survey, 66 per cent of teenagers and 62 per cent of adults said that they wanted less staff involvement and more self-scanning of goods. They wanted staff only to help to pack bags or fetch forgotten items.

About 16 per cent of teenagers and 12 per cent of adults wanted navigation systems on trolleys to help them round the store. Such a system is already being used at the Metro Future store in Rheinberg, near Düsseldorf. Shoppers connect their loyalty card to a computer attached to the trolley. Details are then displayed of goods purchased last time as well as special offers and where to find the items.

About 500 adults and 500 teenagers took part in the survey for IGD and EDS, the IT services company.


1937 The world’s first shopping trolley rolls out at the Humpty Dumpty store in Oklahoma City

1942 The first self-service supermarket in Britain, a screened-off section of the Romford Co-op in Essex

1948 The first full-size supermarket, at the London Co-op, Manor Park, East London

1950 Diners’ Club unveils the first universal credit card

1958 American Express card appears

1974 Barcodes: the universal product code, or UPC, makes its first commercial appearance on a pack of Wrigley’s gum in a Troy, Ohio, supermarket

1990 Tim Berners-Lee invents the world wide web

1991 The first website

1993 Individuals are able to buy internet connections

1994 Sunday trading for big stores. eBay and Amazon websites are set up

1995 Safeway introduces first self-scanning in Britain

1996 Tesco starts 24-hour trading

1998 Google starts. Wal-Mart takes over Asda

1999 Ocado, the online retailer for Waitrose, starts

2000 Tesco.com is set up

2003 Chip and PIN appears

2004 Morrisons takes over Safeway

2005 Nokia and Visa work on payment by mobile phone All card transactions require Chip and PIN instead of signature Co-op introduces a pilot fingertip payment system


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