Scan-and-go: Solving for grocery checkout

By Alex Goodwin

August 8, 2017

Online shopping has yet to make the same dent in food and beverage retail that it has in other sectors, accounting for only 4.3 percent of grocery sales in 2016. However, with reports that 70% of shoppers expect to buy groceries online in the next decade, grocery executives are well aware of the imperative to enable new process and consumer experiences in their brick-and-mortar locations to maintain customer loyalty. Emerging technologies, like scan-and-go, are one solution to creating seamless shopping experiences in brick-and-mortar grocery.

Forbes article from 2012 predicted that “you can win your customers’ long-term devotion by creating unique and memorable buying experiences for them rather than relying on price as a prime motivator.” This mantra has been a primary driver in the evolution of the retail experience over the years, with the assistance of digital tools that are designed to remove consumer friction points and empower new capabilities.

“We want to bring technology to life in the store,” said Chris Hjelm, Kroger’s chief information officer, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Hjelm and his team are developing an array of new digital capabilities and services.

Handheld scanners like Aila's Mobile Imager are one solution grocers are using to streamline the checkout process.

Scan-and-go is one such offering that Kroger is experimenting with. It enables shoppers to use a hand-held device to scan items as they place them into their bags or carts, and then simply pay at the door on the way out. The primary benefit for the consumer is bypassing the standard checkout process, a common grocery pain point. Expediting checkout would not only improve the consumer experience, but also provide some overhead relief, alleviating some of the demand for checkout staffing. As of February 2017, Grab, Scan, Go was available at 15 of Kroger’s more than 2,770 locations.

While the benefits of Grab, Scan, Go are clear, it’s not exactly a novel concept. Stop and Shop introduced a similar program, Scan It, way back in 2000, adding the functionality of letting shoppers use their own phone as the scanning device in 2010. Albertson’s tested its similar  “Shop ‘n Scan” program in 2004.

Walmart launched a scan-and-go pilot in 2012 and 2014 at some 300 locations, including Rogers supercenter. The initial project invited customers to use their own phones to scan product labels through a mobile app; in 2015, Walmart retested a new version of the project, only this time granting shoppers access to dedicated handheld scanning devices.

Notably, Amazon is actively experimenting with another solution for removing the checkout friction point, using RFID in its Amazon Go concept store to automatically scan the entire contents of a bag at once upon nearing the exit, eliminating the need for manual scanning of individual products, either with a handheld device or at checkout. That pilot is only available to Amazon employees, and there is no indication that Amazon will deploy it more widely, much less introduce some version of RFID checkouts into its more than 400 Whole Foods locations.

While the future of grocery checkout has yet to be defined, savvy retail executives will continue exploring how they can use new technology and integrated devices to reduce friction points for shoppers. Enhancements to the in-store experience through creative digital innovation may well prove to be the defining differentiator between those brands that maintain or grow customer loyalty versus those that do not.

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