A Question of Service: The Future Evolution of Retail Checkouts

Article by Mike Day | 15th March 2019

Customer experience plays a vital role in today’s retail world, and the in-store checkout efficiency is very much a contributing factor. Your shoppers’ checkout experience, combined with the length of time they have had to queue, can influence the shopping decisions of almost 40% of customers who are not loyal to a single store location.

Recognising how influential this moment is in the customer journey, retailers are implementing a variety of ways to improve their checkout efficiency. From the wide-spread adoption of self-service tills to more futuristic concepts such as checkout-less stores, the evolution of retail checkouts continues to raise as many challenges as it solves.

Could there be a simpler and more cost-effective way of adapting the traditional checkout experience to meet today’s consumer expectations?

Imagining a world without checkouts

In 2016, Amazon opened up its doors to a unique shopping experience known as Amazon Go. Upon walking into an Amazon Go store, shoppers simply place their phone on a barcode scanner, which provides the store’s system with the shopper’s Amazon account information needed to pay for their purchases.

Once the shopper has ‘logged in’, they’re free to browse the shelves, take what they want and walk out, automatically charging their Amazon account in the process. Multiple cameras around the ceiling of the store track what the shopper handles, reducing the ease of theft.

In the UK, a number of tier 1 retailers are trialling apps that deliver similar functionality. Users of the app, called Mobile, Pay, Go, scan the barcodes of what they want to buy on their phone, pay via the app, and then leave without having used a checkout.

Amazon’s concept stores and similar apps present a tantalising vision in which checkouts are a thing of the past, but currently, they are just that — concepts facing significant hurdles and complexities. ‘This type of technology is still in its very early stages’, said Jim Cruickshank, head of digital development at M&S. Shoppers using Mobile, Pay, Go face limitations in terms of what they can purchase and how much they can spend, never mind users’ concerns around security.

From no service to self-service

The implementation of self-service checkouts in Britain has grown from 7,000 in 2008 to 42,000 in 2015. Today, four out of five shoppers use this method of payment. Customers are queueing for less time than with staff-assisted tills as they scan at their own pace, whilst waiting for the cashier to replenish coins or notes is non-existent during their experience.

Yet questions still remain over self-service technology, particularly around its impact on customer service.

An overwhelming 93% of customers describe the systems as ‘frustrating’, and many self-service checkout areas still require employees manning the area, assisting shoppers and monitoring for theft. Technical problems, often announced by a resounding ‘unexplained item in bagging area’, leave customers frustrated as they wait for assistance because of an unnecessary issue that doesn’t occur on staff-operated tills.

study of 1 million transactions in the UK also found that stock losses incurred through self-service technology payment systems totalled 3.97%, compared to just 1.47% otherwise, highlight how some consumers are taking ‘self service’ to a whole new level.

How your store can adapt ‘traditional’ checkout efficiency

With checkout-less stores looking like a retail pipe dream and self-service tills frustrating customers, staff-assisted checkouts remain a popular option for customers. But with an average queue time of 7.7 minutes, what can today’s retailers do to improve them?

Wireless headsets allow cashiers to communicate with staff colleagues in any location, helpful if a customer has a query or a price/quantity check needs to be made. Clear audio and a defined communication channel mean responses can be generated within seconds, improving the overall customer experience.

The implementation of KeyPad technology is enabling staff colleagues to quickly open tills to prevent or lessen queues, reducing their dependency on outdated loudspeaker systems to call over a team member and wait for their arrival.

According to the payments technology company Worldpay, contactless payments have become more popular than chip and pin card transactions when people pay in UK stores. Retailers set up to facilitate contactless card and Mobile Wallet payments stand to both speed up the checkout payment process and cater to public preferences.

Some stores have also introduced an email or text receipt service depending on their POS system, reducing the amount of paper being used and the time it takes to print out a receipt. Going paperless also means the customer won’t have to endure the frustrating wait for the cashier to replace the till roll.

Other, more traditional methods, such as positioning bag packers at the checkout, aid in checkout efficiency as well as customer experience, freeing up customers to make their payment, interact with the cashier, and fill their trolley.

7 ways to quickly and effectively improve store efficiency.

The evolution of checkout experiences

At a time where customer experience is the number one priority for retailers, your checkout service has a major influence on their buying decisions and loyalty. With checkout experience ranking as the third most important factor when it comes to customer retainment, innovative technology solutions that complement the traditional checkout process represent a key way for retailers to not only speed up and improve the quality of their service but safeguard their futures.

From Jacks, of the Tesco family, to home improvement retailer Wickes, a growing number of tier 1 companies are doing precisely this to increase operational efficiency, gain a competitive advantage, and answer the question of checkout service across their stores.

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