How to introduce self-checkouts and improve the customer experience

MARCO BONINI
27/04/2020
In brief
Self-checkout is an essential technology for the digitalisation of the store, but the functionality of the system and the overall appeal of the shopping experience demand an adequate customer service.

Self-checkout is a topical issue in this lockdown period, but it is also an opportunity for making the shopping experience smoother and faster, part of the smart retailing innovations that every retailer will have to consider. Already adopted for some time by large food and non-food stores, self-checkouts also lend themselves well to smaller shops, especially when the flow of customers is high during peak times, such as during lunch breaks or when consumers return home from work, or the number of cash desks does not ensure a swift completion of the purchasing operations.

The speed of purchase and the option of a faster, easier checkout process especially at certain times of the day, when we are in a hurry and with a limited number of items, is one of the important variables that the customer considers in assessing the shopping experience.

SELF-CHECKOUTS: HOW TO IMPROVE THE PRESENT SITUATION

Currently we can refer to at least two types of self-checkouts:

  • Self-service pay points, allowing to perform the scanning process, the check of the scanned items and related payment in complete autonomy;
  • Self-scanning, allowing known customers, i.e., customers provided with a loyalty card, to scan products as they shop and make the payment in a dedicated fast cash lane.This cash point can be self-checkout (and thus, in effect, a self-service payment) or supervised by an employee. This system involves a sample check of the scanned expenditure through a specially calibrated algorithm.

The functionality of the system and the pleasantness of the shopping experience demand for an adequate customer service.In this regard, a self-checkout system should include one or more traditional cash desks and a number of self-checkout stations supervised by an attendant available as needed, who must be different from those assigned to traditional workstations. The most enterprising retailers may only rely on automated self-checkouts, ensuring a greater oversight which includes a targeted support to uncertain customers during product scanning and in the first uses of the system.

HOW TO INTRODUCE THE SELF-CHECKOUT SERVICE

The first task to be scheduled is the calculation of the ROI according to the different self-checkout systems chosen and preparatory for the type of purchases — number of items and average purchase value for customer groups — that consumers make and the validation of the investment.It should be noted that a self-checkout project is not a project involving only the IT and technical departmentsbut it must encompass the whole company and, in particular, it will be necessary to:

  • integrate the usual checkout processes and procedures with the new self-checkout system;
  • ensure the correctness of the product master data as any non-alignment between the master data and the product will impact on the fluidity of the shopping experience making it difficult to scan the products with the closing of the transaction and the consequent intervention of the attendant;
  • properly train and instruct all sales staff on the use of the self-checkout system, especially on customer assistance procedures, so as to ensure that the purchase process can be quickly completed in the event of system problems;
  • involve the staff in charge of managing the master data in the training process so that it is fully aware of the importance of this work;
  • define a correct communication plan for customers starting from the information on the activation of the system with the invitation to test it, up to the operating instructions to be made available at the self-checkout points.
  • communicate to the customer the potential of this system in terms of autonomy and speed; this phase is important to gain a familiarity of use that will allow a positive economic return as well as maintain customer engagement and improve the shopping experience.

The self-checkout system is the perfect cornerstone for the integration of a digital signage system, for the implementation of self-payment kiosks that also allow fidelity activities linked to (more or less advanced) couponing programmes, and click & collect systems related to e-commerce; all factors significantly related to customer engagement, one of the fundamental competitive levers of diversification and distinctiveness among retail chains.

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