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“Supersize” the self-checkout experience

As traditional brick and mortar stores face fierce competition not only from other stores but also online, shopping at physical locations must undergo a fundamental change. The next step in shopping is heading towards more and more automation. Beyond saving time and resources for the store, self-checkout enhances the consumer’s level of control. As a shopper, you see the price of each item you scan into your basket and become more acutely aware of your budget. If you are eating at a fast-food restaurant, you can even see the calorie count, but that might not deter you since no one is behind you to hear you “supersize” your order. Self-checkout has been around for a while, and yet consumers have mixed feelings about the experience. AI technology stands to revolutionize the self-checkout landscape, opening the door to entrepreneurs interested in exploring this space.


IBM predicts that by 2020 85 per cent of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent.[1]



Innovating the self-checkout model

Self-checkout machines were first introduced in 1992.[2] Since then, and to this day, the familiar experience for shoppers has been to reach a self-checkout machine at the end of the trip to scan and bag items. Now, over a quarter century later, the traditional model of self-checkout is being turned on its head. Walmart has rolled out a scan-and-go option in 120 of its stores. While walking through the store, consumers scan their chosen items to an app on their phone. At the end of their trip, shoppers are directed towards a mobile express lane where a Walmart worker will scan their digital receipt as well as the physical item in the cart.

With Amazon Go, shoppers do not even have to interact with store employees. Customers can walk into the store, pick up items, and the smart shelf technology will identify what they have taken.[3] As they leave the store, the bill is automatically charged to their amazon account. This trend is catching on in fast food as well. By 2020, most McDonald’s 14,000 locations will have ordering kiosks installed.[4]

While some stores provide visitors with scanners at the store for the scan-as-you go option, other retailers have discovered that the use of a customized mobile store app can be advantageous. With the store’s mobile app on a customer’s phone, a retailer can delight that visitor with coupons as well as info regarding product availability and reviews.

Discourage theft at self-checkout

From its early days and to this day, self-checkout has been a cause for concern for theft. A common issue that arises with self-checkout is a missing bar-code. Some patrons would exploit this as well as other technological loopholes to place unchecked items in their basket. For cost savings to outweigh losses, retailers should consider prevention measures for self-checkout fraud. One way to go about this is to position public-view monitors at eye level at the traditional checkout area to impede shoplifting or what is known as the “unexpected item in bag” phenomenon.[5] Another video based anti-theft technology is StopLift’s ScanItAll Self-Checkout Loss Detection, which utilizes artificial intelligence to analyze point-of-sale video to detect uncharged items left in the shopping cart basket.[6]

Last Thoughts

It’s important that those who choose go the self-checkout route perform market research to understand their audience as well as the money that may be left on the table. While millenials are accustomed to using technology to speed-up transactions and will happily cut out the traditional cashier for a faster checkout, other groups may not be so enthusiastic. In addition, as self-checkout gains momentum, the impulse buys of shoppers who would otherwise be waiting in line will naturally go down, hurting the bottom line of some vendors in the process. This is another space where retailers and entrepreneurs with initiative have the opportunity to gain the share of wallet from moms, kids and anyone else who under the tight conditions of a packed line would pick up the occasional over-priced item.

[1] How is automated customer service changing human behaviour?/Virgin

[2] Episode 730: Self Checkout/NPR

[3] Here Are the Next Cities to Get Amazon Go Cashier-Less Stores/Fortune

[4] We tried the kiosks that analysts say could help McDonald's win back $2.7 billion in sales. Here's the verdict/Business Insider

[5] Making Self-Checkout Work: Learning From Albertsons/Forbes

[6] ScanItAll Checkout Vision Suite