Checkout lines are so 2017
Companies are looking to reinvent retail store operations by doing away with annoying wait times.
The days of the checkout line are numbered. That message reached many consumers this month with the opening of Amazon’s first checkout-less store, Amazon Go, in Seattle. But Amazon isn’t the only company looking to reinvent retail store operations by doing away with annoying wait times.
While Amazon was still putting the finishing touches on its automated store, 170 shoppers in London had already experienced an entirely new kind of retail experience thanks to IBM’s Instant Checkout system.
As part of a six-week trial at a Shell station convenience store starting in December, they were able to scan an entire bag’s worth of groceries in one go and pay with a tap of their phone—a process 15 times faster than a standard self-service checkout.
“We’ve got a lot of self-service in retail stores in the UK. I think there’s generally a frustration about what those experiences are like,” said Matt D. Boltwood, Associate Partner in the Industrial Sector with IBM Global Business Services.
The key to IBM’s experience is a revolutionary radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, which was placed on every product for sale in the Shell store. Unlike bar codes, which must be scanned individually, RFID chips can be read all at once and they can be deployed effectively on any product regardless of its material.
At Shell’s checkout, customers merely had to place their shopping bag on a kiosk’s scanning platform, open an app, and tap their phones on a reader to deduct the payment from their mobile wallet.
“Unlike other futurist concept stores where the goal is to eliminate the need for shop staff completely, the invention means that retail staff can spend their time engaging with customers and enhancing the in-store experience, rather than facilitating transactions and fixing self-checkout bedlam,” IBM inventor iX digital leader Lindsay Herbert wrote.
Today’s brick-and-mortar shoppers have higher expectations than ever before.
“When a consumer goes into a store, they go into that store with a laser focus. They know exactly what they want. So what consumers want these days is a quick, efficient, frictionless experience. What’s incumbent on retailers is to figure out how to provide that,” said National Retail Federation VP of Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews at an IBM panel earlier this month.
IBM Instant Checkout and Amazon Go are proof that seamless checkouts are key for many retailers’ approach to providing better customer experiences.
So what’s next for IBM’s store of the future? For the time being, Shell stores using IBM technology will have to tag all the products with RFID chips in stores themselves. But in an ideal future, Boltwood said, manufacturers would sell products with the chips already installed, making the process for retailers even easier.
As the system rolls out to more Shell stores in the UK, shoppers will see the technology’s impact largely at checkout. But store managers will see changes across multiple levels of the business.
With the data from universal RFID tags, Boltwood said, retailers could keep tabs on their entire inventory. They could be alerted when a product is about to expire and when shelves need to be replenished. They could also figure out where best to place items in a store depending on the time of day or the weather. And they could help prevent theft.
“What we’re looking at is the potential of this technology not only as an instant checkout but as a component of the connected store,” Boltwood said.
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