A couple of months back, Co-op became one of the first UK supermarkets to introduce an app that allows customers to pay via their mobile phones for the items they buy in store. This ‘shop, scan and go’ app is similar to the service Amazon created for their checkout-free grocery stores in the US and is just another step in how mobile technology is improving the all-round experience for shoppers as leading retailers aim to get one step ahead of their rivals.
Not too long ago, online grocery shopping was touted as the future, but as a shopper that likes to feel her own veg, I was always sceptical. Then came the self-checkouts – being trusted to scan and bag our own shopping felt radical. Could dishonest shoppers now get away without paying?
Over time, self-checkouts have become the norm and for every downside (like in-store staff losing their jobs) there is a positive - such as the employees working on the technology being rewarded.
Shopping online vs in-store
Starting with online food shopping - it means you don’t get to rummage through fruit testing the ripeness of bananas but for people living in rural locations that can’t easily get to and from supermarkets, this facility is excellent. The same goes for people without their own mode of transport. Older people, busy people, unable people, even lazy people, online food shopping serves a huge proportion of those that need to buy groceries but can’t always get to the supermarket.
Self-checkouts – the end of human interaction?
I first started using the self-checkouts at supermarkets when the queues were too big or, annoyingly, when it appeared that there was no one willing to jump on a checkout to serve me because they were too busy stacking shelves.
There’s no denying it’s a great facility if you have a small number of items to purchase. Just simply scan your stuff, make your payment, don’t forget to top up your points card and you are away. Initially, I always wondered ‘What if’ an item does not get scanned? How many people are getting away with not paying by not scanning and bagging their items? I’m sure any theft amounts to much less than the savings the likes of Tesco and Asda make by not employing people to man checkouts.
Now I love the self-checkout facilities and use it almost every time I nip in a convenience store. I’m never going to use one to do my big shop. However, there are some days when I want to talk to people and I still find it warming to be greeted with a human smile behind the checkout.
The self-service checkout facility is designed for speed and convenience, which is very much why so many people prefer using them. The whole point of mobile and other technology in retail is to make consumers’ lives easier. Sometimes this technology doesn’t make the shopping experience more convenient, for example when you self-scan alcohol and have to wait for staff authorisation. but mostly they do make our lives easier, quicker, hassle free, which is how it should be!
Scan your shopping as you go
A positive in-store innovation for me is the ‘scan and go’ system that my local supermarket has implemented. As a bring-your-own bags shopper, I like being able to put all my shopping away as I get it off the shelf and simply pay for it on exit. A great example of in-store technology making my life easier!
Now I rock up to the supermarket, enter my username, get given a code, pick out a self-scanner and away I go. I even make the bleep noise when I scan my cheese because its not all about speed, efficiency and getting the job done easily, it’s also a bit of fun to do!
What’s next for the grocery shopping in-store experience?
So, what’s next in the world of retail technology? Click and collect is already proving popular and I’ve read about supermarket drive-throughs and robots hand-picking everything for you. No doubt that soon all the shopper will need to do is smile or frown at products and the muscular movement will recognise the brand of cereal they want to buy.
My US-based colleague, Robert, recently authored a blog about the shopping experience in North America and it’s interesting to compare this to what’s happening here in the UK.
In Robert’s blog, he reminds us that in-store experience is worth very little if the product is no good. What’s true both here in the UK and in the US is that it’s the supermarkets’ own brand products that can entice shoppers into stores. Marry great own brand product innovation with a positive in-store experience and retailers are onto a winner.