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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Stores May Check Out Bar Codes

Just when she least expected it, the henna-haired cashier at the Nadezhda household goods shop on Malaya Sukharevskaya Ploshchad made her first acquaintance Monday with a bar code.


The experience was not pleasant.


"We're a state store. We don't need those things," said the cashier, who would not give her name, waving her hand dismissively at a dictionary bearing the striped product identification code familiar to Western shoppers. "We use Russian-made cash registers for Russian-made goods. That's good enough for us."


The Moscow city government thinks otherwise.


Not ones to wait around for progress, the city has prepared a draft law requiring all goods sold in Moscow to feature bar codes and all stores to issue customer receipts loaded with the information that only a bar-code system can provide.


In theory, once passed by the City Duma, the law could be a watershed in shopping history. Equipped with scanning devices that read bar codes, stores would jettison the three-point Soviet sales system -- in which a shopper select purchases, then pays a cashier, then returns to collect the goods -- and move quickly toward Western-style checkout.


"We want to harmonize the international and Russian consumer markets," said Gennady Belov, deputy head of the city industrial department.


In reality, though, the kassas may survive the blow yet.


"The bar code is not a simple decision. It's up to the stores to decide how they'll deal with it," said Alexander Maximovsky, head of the Bar Code Center, a consultative group that worked with the city industrial department in drafting the law.


There could be as many different ways to use bar code scanners as there are store and cashier layouts, he said, adding that although stores are not obligated to buy scanners, they must issue receipts in "a certain form" that more or less require a computer.


For the neighborhood Soviet-style gastronom, though, the city's dreams of dragging Moscow shops into the computer age is not necessarily within reach.


Depending on individual features, said Maximovsky, Western-made scanners can cost $200 to $1,500, and the cost of a changeover to scanning may be well beyond the reach of many shops.


Even though the technology already exists to render many of them expendable, cashiers at Moscow shops Monday had difficulty imagining a world without kassas, or a world without their jobs.


Asked whether customers could be trusted to bring items up to a cash register themselves, Sveta Potoskneva, senior cashier at the Dendy Electronics store on Petrovka, was doubtful.


"I don't know whether our shoppers are ready for that yet," Potoskneva said, eyeing a gaggle of teenage boys staring open-mouthed at a nearby computer game. "They'd need someone to explain things to them."


"It's not realistic," commented the Nadezhda cashier.


"The customers might break something, and who knows where their hands have been?" she said, pursing her lips.


According to the city draft, over a three-year period salespeople weaned on the Soviet shopping virtue of "pay as you go" will be put through training courses on bar codes and scanners, the city's Belov said


While details remain vague, the shops themselves will probably finance and organize the training "with some help" from the city, said Belov.


The draft bar-code law will be examined by the city government next week, according to Belov, before being passed to the Moscow Duma for confirmation.


Few laggards are expected.


Fines for stores that reject bar codes won't be necessary, Maksimovsky said, because "no violations will occur."


Judging by telephone calls to a sampling of Moscow store managers, few if any object to the bar code draft, much less contemplate insubordination.


"Well, if it doesn't cost too much, I don't mind," said a manger at the Shoes store on Sadovaya-Kudrinksaya Ulitsa, who gave his name as Georgy. "It'll make everything more convenient."


Soon, not only Moscow but the whole country could be scanning madly. The presidential administration's Information Committee, which tracks legislation, will watch the law in Moscow with the idea of proposing similar legislation to the State Duma, Maximovsky said.


And to ensure that the Moscow labor market doesn't miss out on a golden opportunity, the city also plans to organize a program for local defense industry plants to produce scanners for potential use in Moscow shops.


The Russian bar code market -- "insignificant" in comparison to Western markets -- currently hovers in the "tens of millions of dollars," estimated Maximovsky.


Although five major Western producers already supply companies here with bar code scanners, Russian defense firms possess the technology, if not the experience, to compete for those millions, he said.


"Many converted defense firms are looking for a way to use their skills," Maximovsky said. "This could be it."


Armed with a computer-generated check that lists purchased items along with their prices, consumers will at last have a "legal document" with which to confront store managers, Maximovsky said. Detailed information on date and site of production and product contents goes into each bar code.