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The future of the checkout experience

Does technology in store really improve your shopping experience? Is the promise of self-service something that the average shopper wants? Who indeed is the average shopper and who’s to say what they want?

I’ve recently spent time visiting various stores within the US with a focus on comparing technology driving self-service versus good old-fashioned checkouts. Both formats have their place and stores that have a good balance between the two are obviously going to please more people, but it’s becoming apparent that some stores lean in a certain direction.

Back in April 2018, Walmart put the brakes on their Mobile Express Scan & Go roll out, and to me that makes perfect sense. I personally don’t want to scan my own goods, bag them as I go and still have to make my way through the Express line on the way out of the store. My local Walmart did offer this service and I don’t remember ever seeing anyone use it, so maybe I’m not alone in preferring to pay and bag at a check out.

At the Kroger store I visited, it was the opposite. Their brand new store offered something I really did like and did not involve any technology. You simply took your cart to checkout and they unpacked, scanned and repacked all your goods for you. At first, I must admit I felt a little guilty stepping back and watching someone else removing all the items from my over-full cart (even though I assured myself I was only going to buy milk), but it felt good to receive true customer service.

The Kroger story does not end there, unfortunately (or fortunately if you prefer) on my next visit fewer staffed checkouts were open and more self-scanning checkouts were deployed. When you have a full cart, the last thing you want to see is two open checkouts and 12 self-scanning checkouts.

This got me thinking, are shopping habits really changing? Do people visit stores more and buy less items because they want to or are they avoiding long lines at checkout and skipping through the self-scanners?

Now back to Walmart as I recently used the Check Out With Me service in the Lawn & Garden Center, and enjoyed it. It’s like a glorified Scan & Go but with someone else does the scanning. Trialling this in the Lawn & Garden Center is ideal. Walmart associates with cellular devices and Bluetooth printers can check out customers and provide a receipt on the spot. Customers no longer need to venture inside the physical store to pay for items like mulch, soil and flowers.

It appears that the future of the checkout experience is variety.

It’s no secret, some people love the use of technology while others prefer to talk to staff at the checkout. Even that will change on a daily basis, depending on what you are buying or the quantity of items. Stores are not just looking for a single winning checkout experience, but how many can they offer at the same time. Even then, I still ask the question - Does technology in store really improve your shopping experience? A colleague of mine asked in a previous blog: will convenience be the death of conversation?

Will I really return to a store based on whatever cool tech has been deployed in-store this week, or will product always remain king? Regardless of whether I’m standing in line, scanning goods outside in the rain, paying on my mobile app, I’m buying something – we’re all buying something.

So yes, product is indeed king. Product is what will keep customers returning to store and ultimately, the product experience will outlive the shopping experience. This is why we’re seeing the increase in differentiated private brands as opposed to the aisles of national brand equivalent products. Fancy in-store tech aside, retailers must continually ask themselves: “What makes my product different.  And does my product deliver on that brand promise to customers?”

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Robert Neill

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