Guest Column | June 30, 2014

How Automated Scanning Can Improve The Customer Experience In High Volume Retailing

Rusty Hastings

By Rusty Hastings, Retail Industry Marketing Manager, Datalogic

If you are a fan of almost any sports team you have experienced periods where “your” team performed below expectations. Despite state-of-the-art training, new facilities, the best coaching, recruitment of top level talent, even new uniforms, the team makes rookie mistakes, doesn’t work together, and loses games they should be winning. In almost every case you can expect the coach to respond by saying something along the theme of, “We need to get back to fundamentals and do the little things that made us successful in the past.”

“Today’s consumers are demanding.” Almost every article on the state of retailing today echoes this theme. But is it really true? Perhaps what we mean is that shoppers today have more choices in where they shop, how they shop, and how products are delivered.

High volume retailers, supermarkets, hypermarkets, superstores, discounters, and warehouse clubs today must project their brand across multiple channels both in-store and on-line and they must compete against the on-line only retailers that offer viable alternatives to the regular trip to the grocery store.

Conventional wisdom says the grocery store must offer a better and more valuable shopping experience to draw shoppers to the store. Retailers have taken innovative approaches to store construction and re-models creating new boutique departments in-store, adding cooking classes, wine tastings, food demonstrations, digital promotional offers, and many other enticements to drive store traffic. These initiatives have indeed had a positive effect; however, one key part of the shopping experience has remained relatively unchanged and almost universally disliked by the shopper — the checkout, specifically, checkout lines.

Targeted at high volume retail checkout environments, automated scanning checkout is the newest tool available to retailers that enables a significant increase in high volume checkout speed and a corresponding decrease in the checkout lines that defeat an improved shopping experience. The automated scanner allows the user to place items on a moving checkout belt, in any orientation, that transports the items through “scanning arches” which use advanced imaging technology to read the bar code or recognize the item at a much higher speed than traditional checkouts. Major retailers in the France, Germany, Sweden, U.K., and the U.S. are currently installing automated scanning systems in stores.

Automated scanning is not self-checkout and is differentiated by how the shopper interacts.  Shoppers unload their carts and place items on a belt the same as a traditional checkout lane. Automated scanning lanes do not require a major effort to educate customers in their use and because a store associate oversees the lane, the shopper is not responsible for correcting errors — no more “please place the item in the bagging area” messages to the user. The checker is free to interact with the shopper, answer questions, and perform other activities such as coupon scanning, selling gift cards, etc. while the automated scanner is reading bar codes at a rate much faster than traditional checkouts.  Automated scanning lanes are especially well suited for transactions with a large number of items as well as high transaction counts.

A store’s checkout strategy can be customized to meet the transactional needs of that specific store and of that store’s customers by altering the mix of self-checkout lanes, traditional checker assisted lanes, self-shopping, and automated scanning lanes. The end result is that the shopper has more options available for how they complete their in-store checkout experience which is a critical component to their overall shopping experience because it is their last impression before leaving.

Moving shoppers through the checkout quickly and efficiently isn’t just an option to good customer service, it’s fundamental.

Rusty Hastings has more than 20 years’ experience in the retail industry. He has worked extensively in the development of retail checkout technology and devices that maximize operational efficiency and improve customer service.