Comment: Scan & take - the next disruptive retail innovation?

Suppose I told you you’d never have to stand in a queue any more? Would you miss it?  We all queue as part of our daily lives – for some it's a curse and for others just a welcome pause. There is a fellow feeling something like camaraderie, a sort of social resignation that comes over people in as they queue up at the checkout in the supermarket. Chatting with fellow shoppers and the checkout staff is part of the social aspect of our retail experience.

In many customer experiences the queue and the checkout are the only touch point we have with our suppliers. Of course that is the positive view and for most people, according to most of the research that I have read, queuing is an annoying and resented waste "of my time". In fact as a retail strategy it's having a negative impact on the customer relationship because my only human contact with your organisation is a tired and bored or stressed employee trying to be jolly after you have made me wait until I am slightly cross.

It was our hatred of queues that gave us the self-service supermarket in the first place.

We now seldom queue up to be 'served' except at expert stations or checkouts. I think large-scale retailers are still struggling with getting the right mix of floor-based expertise and sales staff and manning the checkouts. As consumers, our experience is one that seldom satisfies – again, according to most research.

Queuing plus other factors has created the self-service checkout. This experience is inconsistent but improving, however people have varied opinions about them and the experience they deliver. Some like them, some hate them and some won't use them because they are scared for people's jobs. I know some people who will queue for a teller rather than use a free machine now – and visa versa!

This sentiment has also been one of the driving forces behind the dramatic success of click & collect (C&C) as a customer engagement strategy. C&C in its various forms has produced successful business cases for most major retailers. For some it has been the first step towards true omnichannel retail. If you think about it – you start a transaction in one channel (online or phone) and then finish the process in another such as in store.

But the next big thing in this type of innovation is S.A.T (Scan & Take). In S.A.T I see a product in store and having pointed my mobile at it and pressed a button, I own the product, put it in my personal shopping and leave. The bill and transaction all happen automatically as money moves automatically from my bank account and the receipt either displays in my app or is sent by email to my inbox. Yes, I just pick it up, swipe it and it is mine. All the technology involved is maturing with some elements just starting to arrive at the tipping point to delivering mission critical reliability and ease of use that is behaviour changing. S.A.T will be a disruptive innovation.

The number of things that you will queue for will start to reduce significantly. Of course, that will make customer queuing less acceptable business behaviour and that will create a whole raft of new customer and business behaviours. This will create pressure on organisations to become even smarter about how they manage customer contact… but that's another story.

So, how much of this could your retail business do today? Actually all of it but it would be a bit clunky. You can rent space on a shared payment platform that will take payment direct from a mobile phone, generate a receipt and an action to display inside the customer record (and their app), today. There are credible offerings online that may cost more per transaction at financial fee level but reduce the overall cost of payment taking. You could use RFID, QR or existing barcodes and you would be able to link the whole thing to your inventory and supply chain and you would reduce the use of conventional technology and cost.

So the question is – if we can do it why don't we? There are two parts to this and the first is credible now but, had you looked 12 months ago, you would not have found viable options and, secondly, unless we are spoon fed large scale solutions by large technology companies we are not actively taking advantage of what's available to us now. Most of the required functionality is easily cheaply (and with no investment) available in the shared service model that is the internet. You could literally build S.A.T into your business using online pay as you go tools today – and if you can do that what else can you do today?

However, it is only a matter of time before you will be able to buy this solution from a major payment vendor so start thinking. What will things be like when you have S.A.T.? And you will because as a retailor it is one of your best defence strategies against the Amazon Conundrum. Until Amazon has physical manifestation of product if you have physical proximity to your customer with a product I can put in your hand now you are more likely to in some sales and not in others. S.A.T. makes it more efficient, which of course makes for a cheaper faster better customer experience.

The moral of this little story is this: buying and building apps to enhance your customer experience requires a culture supporting experimentation and innovation. Today I have seen an app that can take a 3D picture on a normal iPhone called Seene. In a couple years it may be how I share the shopping experience for a new shirt using that app so you can see how it looks in 3D. Keeping an eye on innovation is an important activity.

Customer Experience Foundation founder Morris Pentel is a customer experience & contact strategy designer, and works on value models and organisational structures to help businesses around the world. Over the coming months, he will be writing a future-gazing series for Essential Retail.

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