Retail Self Service

Blog: Are You Ready to Make Manual Age Verification Checks a Thing of the Past?

January 31, 2022  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

I was getting my groceries last week in a supermarket in our town. Despite being a smaller grocery store, it offers the convenience of self-service checkout which is one of the reasons why I go there rather than to a local store nearby. As I was checking out my weekly errands, I noticed a woman next to me who wanted to buy two bottles of wine using a self-checkout station. Even though she was clearly over 18 years old (which is the age you can legally purchase alcohol in the Netherlands) she could not purchase the wine without asking staff for ‘clearance’ first. Since the self-checkout device was set up to flag alcoholic beverages as age-restricted items, a store employee had to walk over to her and physically check the age of the woman and then approve her wine purchase via an app. Only then she could finish the transaction and pay for her purchases.

I was thinking about this on the way home. It struck me that it does not make a lot of sense to offer “self” checkout if you need to wait for an assistant to help you proceed with your purchase process. In fact, it basically eliminates the benefits of offering self-service to shoppers, namely, convenience, speed and frictionless checkouts. It also reduces the return on investment for retailers, as they still must keep attendants on stand-by to support these and other types of frictions in the self-checkout area.

At a traditional checkout station, the cashier is trained to handle and solve things like age verification. However, customers aren’t trained staff—they don’t know how to quickly address issues that can arise, which can cause frustration and longer queues. An internal study we carried out at several larger grocery retail chains across Germany, Poland and the UK indicates that the average self-checkout time increases by 50% to 100% with each interruption. We found that 25% of the interruptions were caused by age-restricted items. In general, it took staff 2-3 minutes to resolve an interruption, which of course has a detrimental effect on customer acceptance and customer confidence in self-checkout solutions. I think it’s safe to say that each disruption leads to lower customer satisfaction, longer queues and higher staffing costs.

However, it does not have to be this way! Interventions like age verification checks can be avoided completely. Using a camera placed on top of the self-checkout device combined with artificial intelligence (AI) for pattern recognition, a shopper’s age can be automatically determined, and with high accuracy. No manual check is needed anymore. Smart vision technology uses AI-based algorithms and can determine someone’s age by matching facial characteristics to a reference database. With self-learning algorithms getting smarter and smarter all the time, some solutions are now able to even successfully match faces that are partly covered by a scarf. Staff now only needs to check shoppers that score below the age threshold. And these kind of solutions are very effective: according to a ResearchGate study, age verification based on smart vision technologies reduce the number of interventions by 80% to 90%.

Apparently, the friction did not go unnoticed by the retailer. From a store manager, I learned they are about to implement an automatic age check solution in the self-checkout area. So next time, hopefully, the woman who is buying her wine in this store can get home to enjoy it, without any friction at checkout. 

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