Frictionless shopping. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and connotes an evolved customer experience where shoppers reach a state of shopping nirvana. It also takes on new meaning in the midst of a pandemic requiring social distancing and other measures to limit close personal contact. But to Paul Lysko, Global Product Line Director, Self-Service Solutions at Toshiba, frictionless shopping is more than a self-service e-commerce experience where customers simply click and pay. It is the collection of all elements of an in-store experience that provide value over and above the technology involved. Beyond just achieving their shopping goal, it’s that feeling a shopper gets that the experience of visiting the store was efficient, positive, and even one of beneficial discovery.
“Frictionless shopping isn’t limited to the store front end or checkout lanes. It encapsulates everything about the experience that motivates the shopper to choose one store over another,” says Lysko. “It takes more than installing new technology—it takes providing an experience where the shopper feels positive, in control, and happy to come back—as though they scored everything on their list and then some.”
The journey to frictionless shopping isn’t an instantaneous one, but for retailers just starting down their innovation paths, where do they begin? After all, few grocers—and few customers—are ready for futuristic concept stores like Amazon Go, no matter how compelling they may be. According to Lysko, the first building block is to implement—or revisit—a technology that many take for granted these days: self-checkout.
The first building block is self-checkout
Obviously, self-checkout has been around for a number of years, but retail technology providers like TRUNO and partners like Toshiba have seen its adoption accelerate over the last two to three years. This is due to numerous factors, all of which point to self-checkout being the ideal first building block for a retail grocer’s digital transformation.
The economics of self-checkout are interesting, especially in light of the recent pandemic and recession. Until 1Q 2020, wages were rising, and unemployment was low, making it hard for grocers to find and keep employees—and those they did retain cost more. Self-checkout reduced the number of cashiers, and grocers could retrain those staff as shopping assistants, for sales promotions, product demos, or other roles. Then everything changed—or did it? Despite the increase in available labor due to pandemic-related unemployment, many grocers are paying more for labor, including overtime, and associates are needed more for stocking shelves and filling online grocery orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Either way, self-checkout turns out to be a good choice because it shifts labor away from the front-end.
Speaking of COVID-19, self-service checkout also facilitates shoppers’ adherence to social distancing mandates designed to curb the spread of the virus. Grocers provide an essential service, yet they must still keep customers safe. With self-checkout, shoppers have less personal interaction with cashiers and fewer hands touching their items, resulting in a more positive and safer experience in an otherwise stressful shopping landscape.
Beyond the pure economic and operational benefits, self-service is an experience customers have come to accept and expect in all aspects of life. In years gone by, people used to expect a gasoline station attendant to fill their tank, wipe their windows and check their tires. Over the last two decades, customers have become accustomed to self-service in grocery stores, too—from bagging their own groceries to self-checkout and more recently mobile and scan-and-go shopping. Self-service is simply expected. The same is happening in other industries with self-service touchpoints appearing in restaurants, banks, airports, you name it. As shopper acceptance of self-service technology rises towards 100%, why wouldn’t self-checkout be an obvious first step?
If you’ve already implemented self-checkout, it might be time to revisit that first step. The average life of a self-checkout machine is seven years, and technology, after all, doesn’t stand still. Newer solutions (such as Toshiba’s System 7) have hardware and software that offer shoppers and retailers many advanced capabilities, including:
- Higher scan speed and lower latency
- Better integration between POS, scales, and cameras—not to mention back-end systems
- Visual item recognition to reduce the need for manual entry
- Sophisticated security scales to balance risk and the customer experience
- More intuitive, responsive interfaces to reduce shopper frustration
- Remote/distance tools for better utilization of the shopper assistants
These new capabilities work together to not only raise operational efficiency and lower risk for the store, but to reduce friction for the shopper. And isn’t that what frictionless shopping is all about?
The first step but definitely not the last one
Of course, it takes a combination of various well-integrated technologies and operational excellence for retail grocers to provide a truly frictionless shopping experience.
Lysko reminds us that many elements of frictionless shopping have nothing to do with technology, but rather are operational in nature. An untidy parking lot with poorly maintained carts isn’t the best first impression to make on a customer, nor is the lack of a smile and “thank you” the impression you want to leave them with. At the end of the day, the merchandising, the store cleanliness, and the attentiveness and friendliness of the store associates remain the most important things that any merchant or any grocer can do.
However, retail technology can help with everything in between. After adding or upgrading your self-service checkout, there are plenty of technology “next steps” grocers can take towards a frictionless shopping experience. There are solutions for mobile checkout, scan-and-go, and online ordering with curbside pickup or home delivery. Retailers can add self-service produce and bulk item scales that print labels to further speed checkout and improve inventory control. There are electronic shelf tags that reflect up-to-date item prices almost instantly. The list of technologies that can propel a grocer’s shoppers towards a frictionless experience for customers—while improving operational efficiency—goes on and on. But you have to start somewhere.
“All of these are different building blocks that can help shoppers gain control and provide greater value over the way they shopped 10 years ago,” says Lysko. “But in the eyes of today’s shoppers—who only want to get in and get out quickly—self-checkout is one of the most productive and most expected ones, with one of the highest returns on investment. And that makes it the ideal first step on a retailer’s path to frictionless shopping.”