So, I needed to pick up some bread and fruit the other day, and I found myself in the neighborhood, so I popped into Stop and Shop at 177 Forest Avenue in Glen Cove, not my usual grocery store.

When I walked in, the first thing I saw was a computer with a sign above it that read, "Place your deli order here." I didn't have a deli order, but still, I checked out the workstation and played with the console. Customers can enter their deli order (one pound of ham, a half-pound of turkey, etc.) when they enter the store, and by the time they work their way to the deli counter, presumably, it's all ready to go. I love the idea just about as much as I hate pulling a numbered ticket from the machine in the deli department and waiting for my turn.

Next, I spotted another, different computer, this one surrounded by scanner guns, each locked into its own little cubby. Below the large display was a stand of plastic bags and a compartment filled with paper ones. I followed the posted instructions, swiping my Stop and Shop card, after which one of the parked scanners began blinking wildly and words on the screen instructed me to remove it. I did. I was then told to remember to take my bags. I estimated my anticipated need and took four (I returned later for 2 more.) That's when the fun began.

As I filled produce bags with peaches and nectarines, I weighed each on one of several scales positioned throughout the produce department. Out came sticky lables, printed with the type of produce in my bag, the weight, total price and a UPC code, which I scanned with my newly acquired handheld scanner. The screen on the scanner listed the item, price and a total price for my purchases so far.

I continued throughout the store, scanning items and filling my bags with things I hadn't intended to buy. Every so often, a loud "ca-ching!" cash register sound eminated from my scanner, and when I checked it, the screen displayed a coupon (50 cents off Charmin!).

I was having so much fun buying so many things I didn't need, that by the time I got to the bread aisle, I had to double back and get more bags (see above.)

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Checkout was a breeze, too. Each register has a card with a UPC code posted on its side. Customers can check out via the self-service lane or through a staffed lane, which I did, but only because I wasn't clear on how the system worked.

I just swiped my scanner over the checkout card and voila! The amount owed displayed. I paid and went on my way.

More than just a fun novelty -- which it definitely was, don't get me wrong -- this system is very efficient. For one thing, by the time you arrive at the checkout counter, your groceries already are bagged up. And it's nice to keep track of how much you're spending as you go along. You can even delete items if you change your mind about them.

I'm sold.