It wasn’t that many years ago that self-checkouts seemed like a giant leap for retail. The ability for customers to control their checkout process has allowed retailers to reduce costs, boost employee productivity, and transform the customer experience. But now, as grab-and-go technology becomes a viable proposition, the goalposts have shifted and the new benchmark is checkout-less shopping.
What are self-checkout and grab-and-go?
Self-checkouts are kiosks that allow customers to scan their items and pay without the assistance of a cashier.
Grab-and-go, on the other hand, lets customers walk into a store, take items from the shelf, and leave without even visiting a checkout. Through a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning, payment is calculated and taken automatically — all the customer needs is usually a smartphone.
Self-checkout has been widely adopted by retailers and is particularly popular among supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, and Aldi. In a recent survey by Harris Poll, 71% of customers revealed they had used self-checkouts, and 70% agreed they made shopping easier.
In comparison, grab-and-go is far newer, and in the same poll only 26% of people surveyed had experienced a fully automated checkout process. This result is understandable given the low number of stores currently offering grab-and-go, although interest is building rapidly. Early adopters of the technology include Carrefour in Europe and Brazil, Zabka in Poland, and Amazon Go in the US.
The advantages of grab-and-go
The benefits of introducing technology in retail are huge. Whenever a human is involved in a process, cost and risk to the business increase exponentially, and both self-checkout and grab-and-go generate significant reductions for retailers.
But while self-checkout greatly reduces human interaction, it doesn’t eliminate it completely. There is always a possibility that the system will raise an error, and customers will have to wait for assistance from a member of staff. Aside from this limitation, as we look to the future grab-and-go will have the edge over self-checkout.
“Grab-and-go greatly reduces the need for the consumer to have some form of digital capacity”
explains Jinder Kang, Innovation Consultancy Lead at Netguru. “While an initial blocker could be the ability to log into the app, once it’s set up, the rest is very simple. The downfall for self-checkout is its potential among much older people.”
“Another benefit of grab-and-go is access to data and being able to paint a true picture of your customer. You can then work that into loyalty programs, engagement, and experiential design,” says Jinder.
Where does using grab-and-go make sense?
Grab-and-go is ideal for segments where the role of salespeople is not pivotal, such as groceries and fast fashion, and where queuing is a pain point in the shopping experience. “Where we don't require empathy or understanding, we don't need a sales associate,” explains Jinder.
The use of grab-and-go depends on which segment of the market retailers are focused on. “Grab-and-go makes perfect sense in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), but if I were a luxury fashion retailer, I wouldn't necessarily be looking at any of these options. Instead, I would be empowering my sales associates,” he says.
In terms of target groups, grab-and-go may appeal more to younger shoppers. The younger you are, the more you appreciate the value of time, so any solution that is natural to use and a timesaver will be a no-brainer.
The pandemic has also elevated the consideration of safety for shoppers and employees, and grab-and-go allows customers to shop without directly coming into contact with another person. “It’s the ideal solution in creating a frictionless journey, which even before the pandemic was the chief aim in retail,” says Jinder.
How to approach the implementation of grab-and-go
The key to maximizing the benefit of any new technology is to test it in the market. Experiment as much as you can to find out which group of customers the solution is most relevant to. “The correct solution for a retailer in one market might not be the right solution for the same retailer in a different market,” adds Jinder.
“As the retailer, I would look at both the rational considerations and the emotional experience,” says Jinder. “So, for example, speed and convenience but perhaps also security and privacy, which may be a concern for some people with grab-and-go. And for the emotional experience, you could look at things like immersive experiences and social experiences.”
It’s also important to consider data collection and how it can help improve operations. You can monitor what happens with products in real time, so you know exactly when and where products need to go on the shelf.
“And you could track products by things such as expiration dates, which lends itself to reducing waste, being able to predict demand, and ordering inventory at the right moment,” adds Jinder. “Having that collection of data is a massive benefit.”
Looking to the future
While we agree that checkout-less shopping is a key part of the future for retail, we also wanted to know users' thoughts. We conducted a Twitter poll asking: In five years from now, which of these will be the shopping standard? Self-checkout, grab-and-go, scan and go, or good old cashiers?
Almost 300 people voted, and 50% of you believe the future is grab-and-go. 25% voted for self-checkout, and only 17% voted for scan and go, and 8% for good old cashiers.
But this doesn’t spell the end for cashiers or self-checkout. Assisted checkouts will still be widely used by customers. That’s why you should blueprint the whole service, focusing on the value you bring to your customer, and make a decision on the balance of self-checkouts and assisted checkouts.
“Incorporating some self-checkouts enables those that are willing to use those to do so. And those that want to use a cashier will have a slightly improved journey as well. In essence, you improve the journey for both types of segments,”
While some people have questioned whether advances in technology will cause job losses, I don’t really believe they will. It’s important to remember that although there will be huge changes in all store duties, it will be an evolutionary change, not a revolution. Depending on brand strategies, staff will likely be retrained and responsible for different areas, for example, as personal advisors.
In the near future, some chains will remain unchanged due to their target group and their value. However, the key to success for retailers now and into the future will be thinking outside the box and identifying where they can create game-changing value.