Shell trials IBM’s instant checkout

Shell is the first retailer to have trialled a new checkout solution from IBM which hopes to rival Amazon Go, removing the frustrating ‘unexplained item in the bagging area’ alert many self-service customers face today.

After a six week trial with selected customers at its Holloway Road store in North London, Shell plans to refine the technology and hopefully roll it out to a store for further customer trials by the summer.

Shell’s GM of digital and technical marketing integration, Janine Albrecht, told Essential Retail the Holloway Road customers were really engaged with the solution, finding it very quick, simple and customer friendly.

“I think it’s quite a big improvement from the traditional self-checkout,” she said.

Albrecht explained that improving customer experience is an important KPI for Shell going forward.

“It would also be about ensuring those people who drive past the station and see several heads queuing, instead of going to the next store, actually stop,” she said. “I think it will have a knock-on effect overall on customer experience and a critical ambition is for us to treat every customer like a guest at every site on every visit.”

RFID adoption

IBM has filed a patent to for its instant checkout and connected store solution. This combines a secure mobile payment with a Universal RFID tagging technology, which is the smallest RFID that can be applied across products of different sizes without need for adaptation. The use of RFID also means retailers will have access to real-time inventory, allowing stock to be automatically re-ordered and deals to be targeted at customers based on their location.

But for this technology to work outside a trial phase, the tags would need to be placed on products at the manufacturing or packaging stage of the supply chain. Albrecht believes that because RFID tags have reduced in both cost and size in the last few years, this shouldn’t be too inconvenient to happen in the near future because it would be “very difficult for retailers to consider placing [RFID tags] in the store”.

Bluetooth technology

The news comes days after Amazon opened the doors on the first open-to-the-public Amazon Go store in Seattle, which goes one step further offering customers a ‘Just Walk Out’ solution where they do not even need to approach a checkout.

Meanwhile, IBM’s solution uses Bluetooth technology in order for customers to complete their transaction with a tap of their smartphone. While Bluetooth beacons are used in other areas of retail, many customers do not walk around with their Bluetooth switched on as it is thought to drain battery life.

Albrecht admits this needs to be an education process for the consumer.

“What’s the advantage at the end of the day? Will they be willing to turn on Bluetooth for a little while, rather than queuing behind four or five people?”

Back in 2016, Essential Retail argued consumers may be more willing to walk around with Bluetooth left on after Apple removed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7.