(And why line-free mobile checkout is the future)
by Will Hogben/ CEO, FutureProof Retail
The first iteration of what we now call “self-checkout” in the grocery industry was launched at the Food Marketing Institute’s annual convention in 1987. The “Automatic Checkout Machine” was unveiled by a Florida company called CheckRobot, and it was received well, generating a lot of industry buzz with words like “futuristic” and “revolution” bandied about. Guided by an instructional video screen, shoppers scanned their items and sent them down the conveyor to a bagger, then they paid a cashier located beyond the bagging stations (the ratio was one human cashier to handle payment for three CheckRobot devices.)
Kroger, which had tested out some of the machines, said that their initial interest in the system was based on the need to “speed checkout, generally considered a major problem area for the grocery industry because of consumer dissatisfaction with long, tedious lines.” (Los Angeles Times, 5/7/1987)
Despite the early hype, CheckRobot’s devices never took off. The computing speed wasn’t sufficient, the machines cost too much, and ultimately, they didn’t even reduce the time spent standing in line, because consumers still had to wait to pay after they scanned and bagged their purchases. CheckRobot lost money and was eventually sold.
The kids who suffered along with their parents through long grocery lines in 1987 now have their own kids—and those long lines, sluggishly slow payments, and tedious checkout processes? All still significant pain-points for grocery shoppers.
We can relate, as impatient Millennial shoppers ourselves. In fact, we started our company, FutureProof Retail, to provide mobile checkout solutions for retailers that prioritize the value of time. Although a resurgence of self-checkout began around a decade ago, we still have the same issues now that shoppers are becoming used to ever greater conveniences; the limitations of self-checkout kiosks are all the more relevant; and from our perspective, here are the top four reasons why:
1. Every single store is unique and different
The “one-size-fits-all” model is destined to fail when it comes to something like checkout, especially for chain-wide deployments. Store sizes, store peak volumes, foot traffic patterns, location layout and shopper demographics are all vastly different. A developer of consumer mobile apps knows this concept of extreme customization quite well, whereas a manufacturer of legacy POS hardware will likely come at the issue with a completely opposite approach
2. Every single shopper is unique and different
Self-checkout kiosks don’t actually help retailers’ objectives around data marketing and loyalty. In fact, marketing at kiosks is nearly impossible. Seeing as how customers are typically anonymous, the kiosk is a very impersonal device, and since they’re already checking out, it is too late to take advantage of anything offered until the next store visit…whenever that may be. The result is poorly targeted and ineffective promotions. With mobile self-scanning, grocers are opened up to multiple new ways to market (coupons, loyalty, promos) during the shopping trip, directly to the opted-in shopper on their smartphone.
3. Limited understanding of theft/shrink risk
Installing a big security camera or a network of cameras all over the self-checkout machine and/or using more security personnel? Taking these costly measures, which are (arguably) dubiously effective in the first place, somewhat defeats the intended savings in capex and labor costs. Mobile checkout integrates the identity of the phone user right into the process, which negates the need for a lot of the expense and headache that accompanies LP hardware.
4. Consumers are confused by the machines
Self-checkout machines are not part of consumers’ “everyday” life. Confusion often reigns, ranging from figuring out the right way of “placing the scanned items in the bagging area”; how to work the proper payment input; how to ensure loyalty points are counted; to how to buy weighted produce. In many cases, busy shoppers that may be juggling kids, purses/wallets, baskets, etc., find interacting with self-checkout machines to be even less efficient. By way of contrast, shoppers have become very familiar with mobile applications on their own smartphones—a device they interface with multiple times a day, every single day. With the growing popularity of both e-commerce and mobile-commerce, completing a checkout by pushing a few buttons on consumers’ own devices is much easier to navigate.
Now more than ever before, the grocery industry needs to continually and aggressively invest in tools and technology that drive speed and convenience throughout the shopping experience—especially at the checkout. Here at Futureproof Retail, we are especially excited to see how line-free mobile checkout technology evolves and develops.
Will Hogben is CEO of FutureProof Retail, a New York City-based startup). The company provides technology to retailers that allows customers to shop using their mobile phones and bypass checkout lines entirely. A veteran mobile application developer and entrepreneur, Hogben has been developing mobile apps for the past decade. Prior to founding FutureProof Retail, Hogben built all versions of iGrill (now iDevices) which was later sold to Weber. He holds a B.A. from NYU.