Across retail categories, consumers are increasingly opting for self-checkout. At the grocery store, rather than waiting in the same long lines multiple times each week, shoppers are taking advantage of the opportunity to take checkout into their own hands — and the trend has accelerated in the last year and a half.
What began as a way to minimise human contact during the early months of the pandemic has become an expectation for many consumers.
“It's clear that users prefer to have a contactless experience,” Ariel Shemesh, co-founder and CEO of retail computer vision provider KanduAI, told PYMNTS in an interview, reflecting on the changes that have happened in the space since the start of the pandemic. “Self-checkout definitely got a lot of users who used to go to the cashiers, and they didn't really mind waiting in line, but they got acquainted with this technology and now they basically demand it.”
PYMNTS research from the new study "Today’s Self-Service Shopping Journey: The New Retail Expectation," created in collaboration with Toshiba, finds that a third of grocery customers used self-checkout options for their most recent in-store purchase. This portion is significantly higher (28%) than the cross-category average.
Additionally, the report, for which PYMNTS surveyed over 2,000 U.S. consumers about their shopping behavior, also noted that two-thirds of these grocery shoppers opted for self-checkout because it was faster than checking out with a cashier, and half said they chose the option because there was no line for self-checkout.
Of non-traditional checkout methods, self-service scanning and bagging was the most in-demand choice, ranking above smart shopping carts and scan-and-pay checkout.
Guiding customers toward self-checkout is key for grocers, as labor shortages limit their ability to meet consumer demand and provide a seamless shopping journey. One of the central self-checkout sticking points when it comes to grocery shopping is the challenge of scanning fresh produce, with customers generally forced to select the item themselves and input it manually, which interrupts the otherwise simple and speedy self-checkout process.
“The crappy user experience that shoppers are having when they have to select produce … makes the entire process of self-checkout a tiresome and long one,” said Shemesh, adding that awareness of this problem for consumers disincentivises some retailers from investing in self-checkout technology. “Clients are reluctant in certain cases to utilize the self-checkout, because of the friction they have with non-bar-coded items like produce, so that’s a major challenge.”
In fact, PYMNTS research found that 35% of consumers who prefer traditional checkouts believe that self-service will not be convenient for purchasing produce, and 52% of all consumers surveyed said that they are less likely to utilise self-checkout when they are purchasing a large amount of produce. Similarly, 42% said they would be less likely to utilise the technology when purchasing a large amount of meat.
That's where the next generation of self-checkout technology tools comes in. KanduAI has produce recognition computer vision tools that can be added to existing self-checkout systems, and other tech providers such as Toshiba, Malong Technologies and Tiliter Retail also have product recognition solutions.
The Fourth Wave
Self-checkout has been through a few different iterations. As Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions Vice President of Business Strategy Kirk Goldman told PYMNTS in an interview earlier this summer, “I think we’re at the start of this third wave, where retailers have gotten a lot smarter about what they’re doing, and they’re starting to experiment a little bit more.”
Shemesh predicts that the next wave, in addition to solving the produce problem, will also handle two other major concerns keeping users from engaging with self-checkout technology as much as they otherwise might: hardware design and age verification.
Regarding the former, Shemesh noted that oftentimes, it's still not clear which part of the device is the bagging area. As far as age verification, pending future changes in regulations, self-checkout devices will be able to “automatically identify the age” of the shopper better than a human cashier could. As it stands today, PYMNTS research finds that more than half of shoppers are less likely to use self-checkout options to purchase age-restricted products.
Beyond the Kiosk
Looking ahead, Shemesh noted that scan-and-go and smart-cart solutions could gain traction in years to come, offering a more seamless self-checkout path than the kiosk can provide, adding that the widespread adoption of truly frictionless solutions like Amazon’s Just Walk Out is a longer way away.
He argued that while Amazon has the resources to invest in trying out next-generation checkout solutions such as these, the economics would not work for most grocers, with the cost of the technology exceeding the profits it would generate.
“At the end, all this deep learning and artificial intelligence needs to be measured with the return on investment for the retailers, and it has to make sense for them,” he said. “It cannot be just innovation for the sake of innovation.”