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What does the future hold for ‘scan as you shop’ technologies?

Aside from the introduction of the self-service checkout the in-store shopping experience has not significantly developed in decades despite online shopping coming on leaps and bounds.

Retailers have introduced numerous ‘scan as you shop’ technologies to streamline the shopping process but these have arguably failed to capture the public’s imagination.

By contrast, Amazon Go has recently grabbed all the headlines by introducing a checkout-free in-store shopping experience.

Whether the current iteration of the Amazon Go solution is scalable remains debateable.

There is no doubt about the scalability of ‘scan as you shop’ technologies. Since launching it in 2011 Tesco has rolled the service out to 500 of its stores, while Waitrose first launched the Quick Check service as far back as 2002 and now offers a mobile-based Quick Check service which does not require the customer to use scanner guns.

However, the proportion of customers that use scan as you shop technologies is less clear. And Tesco and Waitrose refuse to reveal customer adoption of the technology.

Waitrose says Quick Check has established a “loyal customer base” and is used in a “significant proportion” of weekly transactions.

Tesco says its scan as you shop service has “proved increasingly popular”. 

Waitrose first launched Quick Check back in 2002
Waitrose first launched Quick Check back in 2002

Not a long-term solution

Rupal Karia, commercial sector managing director at Fujitsu UK and Ireland, believes the traditional grocery checkout experience is “archaic” but believes customers continue to use it because currently there “is nothing better”.

He suggests scan as you shop has not taken off because it is “not that intuitive” and the need to scan every item interrupts the shopping experience.

“I think scan as you shop will carry on for a while but won’t be long term,” says Karia.

With the rise of the smartphone retailers can be forgiven for believing a mobile-based version of scan as you shop could be a game changer. 

Waitrose says users of its Quick Check mobile app is “comparatively small” because it only launched 18 months ago, while Tesco says it is “too early to gauge customer feedback” on the ongoing trial of its Scan as you Shop app. 

Customer reviews of the apps leave much room for improvement. On the Android store the Quick Check app has an average rating of 2.4, while the Apple version of Tesco’s Scan as you Shop app has a rating of 2.1. 

The Waitrose Quick Check service recently launched on mobile, negating the need for scanner guns
The Waitrose Quick Check service recently launched on mobile, negating the need for scanner guns

Clunky technology

Bryan Roberts, global insights director at retail marketing firm TCC Global, says the mobile-based scan as you go technology is “still very clunky”.

“When we’ve spoken to shoppers about using these types of technologies virtually all of them prefer to use the scanning guns rather than the mobile phones because it is just a lot smoother, easier and less prone to malfunction,” says Roberts. “I think retailers have got a way to go until the technology is as good as the more traditional scanning guns.”

There is no denying that if the technology is finessed then it could significantly improve the customer experience.

And the speed advantage is the most obvious benefit of the technology.

Barclaycard has been trialling its own solution called Grab & Go in its staff canteens, and claims the technology has significantly sped up the shopping process.

Barclaycard claims the average time from when customers made a decision to buy an item through to completing the transaction and walking away has been reduced from five and a half minutes to 32 seconds.

Human interaction

Although even if the technology is perfected there are still question marks as to where it leaves retailers.

“A couple of very senior people have told me they are worried a shopper can come in and spend 90 minutes doing a a £200 trolley shop and have zero interaction with a member of staff,” says Roberts. “A lot of retailers are mindful of the fact that engagement with other human beings can lead to greater loyalty and higher spend.

The trick is working out how staff can be redeployed to build a rapport with customers and even upsell to them, according to Karia.

“The [Quick Check] service plays an integral role for many of our customers, as well as enabling us to reallocate resource to customer service and product availability,” says Matt Clifton, head of customer experience at Waitrose. 

In a grocery market where there have been a number of high profile announcements about cuts to in-store staff the suspicion is retailers are pushing hard to crack checkout free experiences in order to reduce head count.

“What retailers will publicly say is it is about facilitating convenience and improving the shopper experience, the subtext is fairly open in that it can enable retailers to either reduce or redeploy manpower,” says Roberts.

Karia argues it will be the next generation of technologies that will be the true game-changers, and not even Amazon Go-style technology, which removes the need for scanning by using cameras to ‘see’ what customers are picking up, will succeed in becoming mass market.

“If you try to scale up the Amazon Go model to a 60,000 square foot superstore it is not really going to stack up,” adds Roberts.

Karia believes the future of shopping in-store will include a number of solutions that are bespoke to the retailer, and there will be no one size fits all approach.

In the fashion space he believes M&S could create a system where customers can pay automatically on an Uber-style account on their phone by picking up items and walking straight out of the store because all their clothing has RFID.

In the hospitality sector Fujitsu is trialling the use of tiny sensors on cups, while other companies are developing shopping trollies with sensors that allow them to automatically record everything being placed in a trolley.

“It is the next generation that will be really interesting,” concludes Karia. “The next version and the one after that – which will bring the price point down as more people adopt it – will be where it gets really interesting for the mass market.”