Easing Shoppers' Pain Points at Checkout

These self-checkout solutions enable grocers to offer their shoppers a seamless experience
Mike Duff
Contributing Editor, Progressive Grocer
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Self-checkout can ease the most memorable pain point in shopping: waiting in line to pay at an employee-staffed station.

The idea of the customer taking the checkout with them on the shopping trip isn’t new, but technology has made implementation of the idea more likely.

Unlike a hand or mounted scanner, Cust2Mate rides on a shopping cart, providing everything a customer needs to complete a shopping trip, including a scale, and it works with apps and other software to give retailers using it access to data and the ability to provide promotions and other messaging as the customer shops. It also accepts a variety of payment methods.

According to Rafi Yam, CEO of Tel Aviv-based Cust2Mate, the company developed the shopping and self-checkout system with the retail environment as it exists today in mind. The Cust2Mate management team has deep retail service experience — 500 years’ worth, Yam notes. The majority of members have spent time working for Atlanta-based NCR. In applying that experience and working with retailers, Cust2Mate has developed a self-checkout solution focused on security, ease of use, customer communication and an engaging customer journey.

[Read more: "Achieving Better Self-Checkout Experiences With Mixed Technologies"]

“With all of that, you then add in the ease of doing everything on the cart, identifying produce, weighing it, completing your shopping; then just paying and walking out through the security gates,” observes Yam. 

Where traditional self-checkout systems often have their greatest appeal to customers who have only a few products to process, Cust2Mate focuses on shopping trips of 20-plus items conducted in large grocery stores where customers do family shopping. The device has been adopted by the Israeli supermarket chain Yochananof, which has 700 Cust2Mate mounted carts. In addition, Cust2Mate is currently being piloted at Evergreen, a food retailer in Pomona, N.Y., with further pilots coming to the United States very soon, according to Yam. Cust2Mate also has ongoing pilots in Mexico, with others planned for the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

The solution enhances the customer shopping trip in multiple ways, notes Yam, with store navigation provided on the device screen, which provides consumers with an efficient shopping route through the store.

“They can locate any item in-store with a touch of the screen, and coupons that are relevant to each shopper will be made available at the correct time,” he says. “The cart offers are displayed so that the shoppers can avail themselves of relevant and personalized value items with our computer vision system. Now there’s no need to identify fruits, vegetables or other produce. Just pop the item on the Cust2Mate scale, and it will identify it against our unparalleled AI database of food items and weigh it. Once shopping is complete, the consumer self-checks out using credit cards, digital payment platforms and even crypto. The shopper leaves the cart, and it is put on a charging chain until the next customer uses it.”

Scan and Go

These days, it seems that just about every consumer technology winds up residing on a smartphone, with examples ranging from home security to betting.

Of course, scan-and-go tech has been tested, and to some extent expanded, by the likes of Sam’s Club and Walmart. MishiPay has its own take on the concept, however: You not only don’t need to download an app, but retailers can also integrate the solution into existing technology. All a retailer has to do is to hang up a QR code that consumers can use to scan products as they shop via their browsers. David Grenham, VP communications at London-based MishiPay, says that keeping it simple for the consumer and the retailer is the whole idea behind the offering.

At the same time, though, MishiPay delivers a range of benefits, including an analytics dashboard that delivers visibility into store activity, including in real time. Additionally, MishiPay designed its system to enhance shopper satisfaction, notes Grenham.

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The reason for this? In the 21st century, the internet has changed expectations, especially those of younger people who’ve grown up with it. This has “led to a shift in what is deemed an enjoyable retail experience,” explains Grenham, who adds that the in-store experience can, and often does, create friction at the worst possible moment in the shopping process, “which is the point when I want to give the retailer my money.”

MishiPay originally rolled out not in grocery, but in do-it-yourself, electronics and other retailers, where people rarely pick up 20, 30 or more items in a single shopping trip, and then moved into travel, convenience and food retail. According to Grenham, the company recognizes that “optionality” is part of its participation in grocery. Some shoppers won’t embrace the scan-and-go notion; part of their preferred way of shopping is to fill up a cart and interact with an employee at a traditional checkstand. Therefore, MishiPay is an option that consumers can access and may embrace when they give it a try.

The solution is already in use at grocery stores, convenience stores and, in the United States, airports. Even if some consumers limit their use of MishiPay to shopping trips where they’re purchasing just a few items, something that’s true of established self-checkout technology as well, others do use MishiPay on full cartloads of items because they recognize how the technology can save them the time otherwise spent in the checkout line, Grenham points out.

Follow the LIDAR

The latest and greatest in regard to consumer self-service payment, as developed by GK Software, provides a flexible Just Walk Out-style technology that doesn’t require cameras, is shelf-sensor and LIDAR-operated, and gives consumers choices about how they want to shop and pay.

Customers don’t necessarily have to be preauthorized on an app to begin shopping, although they can be. On leaving the sales floor, they can pay via smartphone, using a variety of payment methods, or at an in-store kiosk, which can take cash, if the retailer chooses to provide a unit compatible with the GK platform.

The flexibility incorporated into the system makes it easier to fit retailers’ needs at various formats or locations.

“At the end of the day, regardless of what you do, you need to go back to the expectations of your brand, who the consumer is, what items they are buying and the situation at the moment they are shopping,” asserts Orit Bar-Ad, director of portfolio management at Schoneck, Germany-based GK.

Because the design is integrated into the GK retail operating platform, retailers are free to use any hardware combinations they wish. That being the case, there’s no requirement to purchase new self-checkout hardware and integrate it into the existing IT landscape. Consumers receive guidance through the entire scanning and payment process. The system features different modes, allowing for use as both shopper-operated self-checkouts and as traditional point-of-sale units. Stores can monitor the system using an iPod or iPhone and intervene whenever necessary, such as when a shopper is attempting to purchase an age-restricted item. It could even enable stores to develop their own ways of dealing with age- or number-restricted items, up to creating a set section that can be monitored in a flexible way. The system also allows for separate merchandising areas such as an upfront grab-and-go convenience section that can provide a grocery store with an additional attraction for shoppers.

Beyond Self-Checkout Hardware

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM may have left the self-checkout hardware business a few years ago, but it continues to offer its hybrid cloud as a resource that can not only help retailers function operationally, but also better integrate across an entire digital ecosystem. For IBM, the focus is on customizing systems to suit the particular retailer. The collaborative IBM Garage facilitates the customization as a step toward greater coordination, notes Colm O’Brien, a partner for IBM’s Global Consumer Industry segment.

The Garage provides discovery sessions that IBM conducts with retailers to learn about what types of customers come through their stores. With a retailer, IBM reviews the entire buying journey. Discussions range from how the retailer involved maximizes profits to how it sets markups to how it integrates digital coupons. At that point, IBM and the retailer can weigh specific point-of-sale strategies and how to optimize configurations based on the particular business and how it engages customers.

In its work with retailers, IBM introduces them to its hybrid cloud strategy, one that unifies digital systems and connects applications and data across multiple clouds as well as legacy environments. Although software may have been designed in the past to fulfill a specific function, IBM is using cloud components that can integrate with contributions from vendors and the retailer and have them function as microservices. When it’s all combined, the hybrid cloud in effect bridges systems and clouds, freeing the retailer to conduct business more effectively and innovate as technology and proprietary operations advance.

“If you think about self-checkout, the biggest frustration is the bagging area,” notes O’Brien.

In using IBM technology, a supermarket self-checkout system can act with existing, upgraded and new operating systems as they evolve, whether in terms of software sensors and even AI application. As an example, increasingly refined hardware and software for theft prevention that are used in self-checkout units alert the store if a customer is shoplifting. However, sometimes even updated and well-designed systems make mistakes, and an innocent shopper who has inadvertently moved a product past in such a way that it didn’t register winds up having a problem with the store.

Combine better hardware with AI-supported software and a cloud solution, and the store can recognize and respond to the customer’s history and recognize that the free pass was an accident, explains O’Brien. That combination of technologies can mature in a flexible system such as IBM advocates, and also help with everyday activities such as ensuring speedier self-checkout as new kinds of scanners come online that allow quicker product recognition. At the same time, the hybrid cloud can help link the data produced with analytical and marketing systems that can render coupons, loyalty card promotions and other highly personalized deals that simply appear as the consumer checks out. How satisfying and motivating it could be when a consumer is scanning a product at the front of the store, on a shopping cart, on a smartphone or wherever, and is informed that the store and/or vendor is taking an additional 50 cents off a bottle of shampoo that’s been selected on the shopping trip.

In ways like the above example, IBM not only integrates self-checkout, but also helps it work better across its specific functions. 

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