U.K.: future checkouts take retail experience up a notch
Self-service checkouts have been a feature of retail stores for many years, but NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR) has taken the technology to the next level with its innovative future checkouts; a three-in-one service designed to cut queuing time, improve the shopping experience and give retail staff closer interaction with consumers. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we caught up with the company's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) self-checkout marketing manager Ben Broad to find out more.
One of the biggest challenges with innovative high-tech solutions in the retail sector is to change the mindset of consumers.
For the last 30 to 40 years, shoppers have been used to wheeling a trolley or unloading a basket of goods up to the cashier till, and having a member of staff sitting behind a desk scanning their items.
This of course changed a while back when self-service was first introduced in some of the larger supermarkets, but some consumers still prefer to stick with the traditional cashier option and feel uncomfortable about using self-service technology.
But what if using the self-service checkout were even simpler, faster and added to the consumer experience?
NCR Corporation, a global major in consumer transaction technology, is aiming to do just that with its 'future checkout unit' that allows three shoppers at any one time to go through the unload, pack and pay procedure.
"Tesco first began installing self-service in around 2002 and now globally they have around 13,000 checkouts across six countries so they are prolific users of self service, certainly the biggest users in the U.K. with regards to NCR hardware," Broad said.
"Consumers are now a lot more comfortable using self-service and have more expectation for retailers to offer this as an option.
"This thought of a cashier sitting behind a desk whereby they grunt and scan items does not offer a lot of customer interaction or give a very high customer service."
Broad explains how Tesco was looking for a solution that improved the 'customer journey' and the way consumers interacted on the last stage of their shopping experience.
NCR installed several future checkout units in one U.K. store earlier this year as part of a pilot program and the initial customer feedback is just coming through.
"Tesco wants to improve its customer service and labor efficiency which doesn't mean getting rid of staff but using them in more high touch places," he said.
Broad said invariably more and more consumers sought convenience and speed during their shopping experience, while the retailers themselves wanted to better position staff in proactive roles.
"When you look at any super stores they usually have 30 to 40 checkouts which are very underutilized because they have to manage with the peaks and troughs; so weekends are busy trade days - Easter, Christmas and other holidays are all very busy times so they have to have lots of checkouts to deal with these groups of shoppers during these peak periods.
"What the future checkout does is utilize that by servicing up to three customers at once. So if you have a queue of people where customers stand at the front of the unit and unload their shopping, the automated system will scan the shopping as it goes through the scanner and then send it to one of three packing areas.
"Once that shopper has gone down to pack and pay, the next shopper can then start so ultimately what you’re doing is overlapping processes by dedicating packing areas for each customer."The importance of personal interaction
With the future checkout three-in-one unit, shopping is placed on the belt and no matter where the barcode is on the product, the scanner picks it up.
"What this does is cuts down the queue time and enables Tesco to re-look at the front end so where a store may have had 30 checkouts, it actually only needs ten to give the same utilization because you almost have three checkouts in one.
"The Tesco model is to three cashiers on one unit so they might offer the customer an unpacking service and a bagging service etc which means there is a much higher touch point with regards to that customer experience."
Broad said customer feedback had been positive since Tesco began a pilot scheme in its Lincoln-based super store. Should the trials prove successful, NCR's long term plans are to roll out this technology more widely.
"From a proof of concept point of view it’s proving very successful, however because we are changing a mentality that has been ingrained for 30 to 40 years of how consumers unload, pay and bag, there will always be challenges in terms of people learning how to adopt this new type of checkout experience," he said.
"Adoption is the biggest challenge of today but from a consumer feedback perspective; they have responded really well to this solution.
"We have to go through this phase of acceptation and adoption. There are teething problems of course because it’s a new solution."
Broad used the example of the ATM as a comparison about how consumers slowly begin to adopt new technology, and explained how it often took some time for innovation to become accepted as the norm or at least a sound alternative.
"The ATM was outcast back when it was first introduced. Now the holes in the wall giving out money are everywhere, you can't stumble around a street corner without seeing an ATM.
"It gives you choice and convenience and in today's world time is very tight for a consumer; they want to interact when they want to interact and they want choice.
"Our task it to make future checkouts as simple and intuitive as possible and this will hopefully turn into more consumers adopting the device."