A survey of leading Retailers’ on the Future of Automated Checkouts


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In the world of Social Distancing

Is it time for Retailers and Customers to overcome their reticence to adopt Checkout-free Shopping?

Here we consider the implications of ‘scan & go’, ‘pay in aisle’ and other checkout free solutions from the perspectives of the Retailer in a post-COVID survey conducted by Retail Reply.

We asked 25 leading Retailers.

Shopping is less a case of Retail Therapy and more a Dash & Go

The checkout queue is one of the most uncomfortable elements of the ‘New Normal’. As Retailers are forced to limit Customer numbers in store and to minimise staff interactions, the adoption of Checkout-Free shopping may be a solution to queues and staff.

We spoke to a wide spectrum of Retail Executives who do not currently have a solution for check out free instore experience.

Queue busting and staff savings were mentioned as potential benefits of automated checkouts. With cash playing a diminishing role for instore purchases due to concerns about contamination, there is now one less obstacle to move to fully automated checkouts.

Most of the people interviewed agreed that in a post-COVID scenario, there is a greater likelihood of success.

Main concerns amongst Retailers are Operations, Customer Experience and Security & Fraud

For most of the Retailers surveyed, the main concerns were theft, payment fraud, diminished customer experience and the impact on store operations. This chart depicts the relative importance of the various concerns expressed by Retailers in the survey.

Some retailers asked whether this post-COVID situation will prevail and questioned the wisdom of investing in new technologies and processes.

Are automated checkouts only applicable to low-cost, high volume markets? Apparel Retailers in particular, have been slower to adopt this technology to their customer journeys, compared to tier 1 grocers who for their part have now embraced some form of scan and go technology.

But even luxury fashion brands acknowledge that scan & go technology could be a brand-enhancer due to the potential to imbed personalisation into the customer journey.

The risk of theft might be mitigated by doing 'random' checks but given the degree of loss in stores already, I think you'd struggle to get this adopted


The over-whelming concerns are store security and operational impacts

Almost 50% of the respondents cited store security and the impact of operations as reason to be reticent. Concerns include having enough colleague coverage to greet customers and to minimise theft, particularly for the apparel and B2B Retailers. One suggestion is to use Bluetooth enabled bands to protect high value items, which would be released when the payment was processed.

Specific vulnerabilities include the difficulties in reconciling online and physical baskets. Customers may forget to scan items, being distracted by kids or their phone, so shrinkage may not even be from intentional actions.

One Retailer suggested that advances in video surveillance and AI to identify products will help to mitigate these concerns

Customer experience is central to the debate

How could you persuade people to download the app, unless they are already loyal customers?


Many of the Retailers we spoke to were conscious about how automated checkouts will impact customer experience, with more than 60% concerned that automation will lead to a loss of personalisation and engagement.

But is there an opportunity to personalise the physical customer journey much like we do online today, using dynamic recommendations based on shopping history and basket composition (e.g. orchestrating grocery shopping based on recipes, assembling a ‘wardrobe’ by adding accessories to a basic outfit).

One suggestion was to embed loyalty into the app, so that customers using scan and go technology get pricing concessions or personalised recommendations while they are shopping

Policy enforcement may be a blocker for Grocers

Another issue for Grocers is policy enforcement – how do you monitor age restrictions and item counts when customers are fully in charge of the end to end process?

The drawback is that policy restrictions create a secondary process in the customer journey, involving an employee intervention for age approval for example. This means that even an automated process cannot eliminate employee-customer interactions. Whilst this is not ideal for social distancing, it does create an opportunity to highlight customer service and at the same time, to ‘police’ the basket.

Retailers will have moments of anxiety with higher value items unless the payment deactivates via Bluetooth or a security band of some sort, that releases more higher ticket items

- CX Director of a leading Multi Brand Retailer

Integration is key to inventory management

Many Retailers already struggle to combine their online and instore inventories, and scanning via an app creates another basket to consolidate into the demand forecast for a store. Several Retailers we spoke to mentioned their complex product range and overwhelming number of SKUs as a potential blocker to inventory control.

Physical tills are more than just a scan and pay device – they are complex integrations into back-end demand forecasting and financial reconciliation systems. As well as a point for policy enforcement, they can issue receipts, accept and print vouchers, process gift cards and other complex transactions. Not all of these features can be replicated by a scanner or an app and this was a concern to several Retailers in the survey.

How would we manage our complex inventory?

- Discount Fashion Retailer

Future Trends

Weighing up the benefits of social distancing and customer autonomy against potential fraud and theft loss is a complex calculation, and dependent on scale, sector and segment.

But post COVID-19, Retailers will be forced to fundamentally re-consider their current instore customer journeys including how people browse, select, scan and pay for their goods.

Customers are also more willing to adapt and already have adjusted their perceptions of shopping to be more autonomous.

This could signal the perfect time to introduce autonomous checkouts. Retailers are conscious of the barriers they need to overcome to make scan & go successful, but also recognise this as an opportunity to personalise their customer journeys to harmonise with their digital experience.

Why do we even need stores?

- International Sports Brand

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    Retail Reply is the Reply Group company specialising in helping clients accelerate their response to the opportunities of digital transformation and customer experience, both in-store and online, in the retail, fashion and consumer sector. Retail Reply supports clients’ digital transformation across Digital Strategy, Planning, and Delivery. Our expertise includes IT architecture, digital product delivery, point of sale implementation, loyalty & promotion-engine development and execution, online and mobile customer experience, omnichannel implementation via microservices architecture, and capability-led planning.