New checkout devices reduce the need for shoppers to wait in line, but may encourage them to spend more by providing instant coupons based on the items they select.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a new device, similar to a smart phone, is popping up everywhere from home improvement big boxes to traditional department stores. The gadget scans items as the shopper selects them. To pay, shoppers upload their bill at a self-checkout station, avoiding a long wait in the checkout line.
Systems such as Scan It, in 250 of Ahold USA's Stop & Shop and Giant locations in the northeastern U.S., keep a running total of items and prices, offering coupons based on the other items purchased. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, a customer was offered a coupon for creamer after scanning coffee.
There's been high interest in the technology among major retailers. Last fall, Home Depot tested similar gadgets called First Phones, which are Wi-Fi connected devices that can track inventory and function as a walkie-talkie and cash register. Nordstrom is introducing mobile devices that allow salespeople to check inventory on behalf of a customer and make the sale right then, register required.
Starbucks is joining in on the self-service checkout, too, with mobile payments that allow customers to pay from their smart phone. No need for cash, credit cards, or paper receipts. Apple stores already use portable tablets with credit card readers.
Self-checkout saves time, reduces errors
The system works out well for retailers, which have taken a one-two punch from both the popularity of online shopping and the way smart phones enable consumers to comparison shop while in the store, looking at listings from competitors for lower prices before deciding to buy. In the sixth annual survey from National Retail Federation Foundation and American Express Customers' Choice survey, conducted by BIGresearch, Zappos.com and Amazon.com took the top two spots.
Shoplifting hasn't been an issue, either, at least not for Ahold, which spot checks receipts. According to research from information technology research firm IDC, retailers lose more money from cashiers ringing up prices incorrectly than from shoplifters using mobile checkout technology.
Convenience can lead to overspending
Consumers looking for ways to stash more cash in their savings accounts, however, should know they might wind up buying more than they intended while using the devices. With the Scan It system, says Erik Keptner, Ahold's senior vice president for marketing and consumer insights, consumers spend an average of 10 percent more than the average shopper. Keptner attributes this to the feeling of control the scanner gives consumers and the coupons that pop up as they make purchases for related items.
However, one shopper interviewed said she has reduced both the time it takes to shop and her total, saving 20 minutes and 5 percent.
Eventually the handheld gadgets will likely be replaced by smart phone apps, something Ahold has already started to test. Starbucks already allows you to use your phone to pay from a Starbucks gift card. Retail experts predict that before long most of these mobile shopping gadgets will be supplanted by customers' own smart phones.