Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence sure isn’t.
This sentence was lingering in my head when writing this article. Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence is not. Like so many others, I typically get my weekly groceries on Saturday mornings. And since waiting in line is not my favorite pastime, I usually use the self-checkout area to pay for my groceries. I often witness people struggling with payment and loyalty cards, items with missing barcodes, and with fresh produce (“honey, I forgot: were these Red Delicious or Jonathan apples?”).
The absence of ease of use…
Checking out or closing the transaction by making a payment is an important part of the shopping journey. Both customers and retailers want this step to be as efficient and convenient as possible. For many retailers, that train of thought naturally leads to self-service checkout (SCO) technology. However, as we already saw, simply having SCO devices in the checkout area does not automatically lead to more efficiency and convenience. True transformation requires an intuitive user interface (UI) that optimally guides consumers through the self-checkout and payment process. Yet unfortunately, in many cases the self-checkout UI is cumbersome to use. Many UIs are outdated, lack an intuitive step-by-step flow and are slow to process transactions. This results in more staff interventions—which means higher costs for retailers. Plus, transactions take longer to complete, which creates longer queues at checkout and stokes frustration (with people like me).
…and how to restore it.
However, there is good news! Advanced UI technology is readily available that solves these drawbacks, and which leads to higher scan performance overall. Advanced or “smart” UI technologies have a number of characteristics in common that, combined, lead to a more satisfying self-checkout experience, happier customers and lower costs for retailers:
Gesture-based: Customers can simply swipe between screens or scroll between options shown on the screen using their hands. This mimics the experience of swiping through apps on a smartphone.
Graphical and interactive UI: which makes interacting with a SCO device quick to learn and intuitive to use. Colors, images, animations and even short videos can be accessed on-demand to assist first-time users and turn the checkout itself into a richer and more immersive experience. This improves ease of use and reduces the amount of staff interventions needed.
Voice control and screen mirroring: For differently-abled consumers, touching a screen is not always an option. With proper voice control and clear auditive feedback for each step, these customers can still check out and pay without staff having to step in at some point.
AI-enabled, self-learning processes: Age verification (e.g. for alcoholic beverages), non-barcoded items (e.g. fresh produce) and incorrect barcodes pause the self-scan process until a staff member has resolved the issue. Each disruption leads to lower customer satisfaction, longer queues and higher staffing costs. For example, age verification interrupts self-checkout flows in approximately 25% of all cases, and typically take 2-3 minutes to get resolved. Thanks to smart vision technology leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and self-learning algorithms combined with 3D camera technology, most interruptions can be eliminated. Smart vision can automatically recognize non-barcoded items, or determine someone’s age by comparing face characteristics with a reference database.
No-touch journeys: Many people hesitate to touch store devices because of health concerns. A recent study shows that 82% of consumers prefer touchless store technologies as they’re more hygienic. For this reasons, the most advanced UI technologies support screen mirroring. Screen mirroring allows shoppers to operate the SCO device entirely with their own smartphone. After scanning a barcode displayed on the SCO device, the smartphone screen mirrors the checkout screen. Then, the consumer can operate the entire checkout and payment process with a smartphone. An additional benefit is that screen mirroring enables consumers with physical limitations to enjoy a more convenient checkout experience.
These characteristics directly benefit shoppers. There are also features to consider that primarily benefit the retailer, and secondary the consumer:
Multiple screen sizes and resolutions: Uniformity in UI across various devices will lead to higher adoption rates and steeper learning curves. State-of-the-art UI solutions will automatically detect and support various screen sizes and resolutions, so you as retailer can offer a unified experience across multiple types of checkout stations and kiosks.
Brand awareness: As using the SCO device typically will be the last experience a customer has with your brand for a while, it is important to consider how to emphasize your brand in a non-intrusive way. Smart UIs offer plenty of options to integrate on-brand colors, font types, images and logos. These brand options should of course not be limited to display size and resolution.
Dual-vendor capabilities: Introducing new SCO devices often leads to a hybrid situation in which some stores are already migrated while others are not. This may take some time, and also letting customers get used to new technology requires careful thought. Emulation of the ‘old’ UI that people already know may then be the smarter option, so you can gradually introduce new capabilities and features in a controlled pace.
Easy customization: Advanced UI technologies allow for smart configuration of workflows. This lets you adapt the interface to accommodate your self-service workflows at any time, for example, when introducing new services or payment options. Smart configuration lets you handle this process without having to do code programming or change the underlying POS application, using out-of-the-box process templates that can be modified if needed. This means you can make changes in the workflows in-house rather than paying a consultant to do it, which not only saves costs but also increases time-to-market.
Parallel testing of UI versions: The simplest and most effective way to determine which checkout flows and screens work best, is to test them in real life. Smart UI technology lets you create multiple versions of almost similar flows and/or screens, which can be deployed across several test stores prior to roll-out. This allows you to monitor and analyze KPIs like average checkout time, number of scan errors, average staff assistance time per SCO device, etc. These analyses can then be used to optimize the self-checkout process.
For me, these are the most important considerations when thinking about how to improve the user experience for SCO. Advanced self-service technology puts the customer first by eliminating friction throughout customer journeys and enhancing customer experiences. In a nutshell, this requires smart UI technologies that support fast, intuitive, responsive and robust checkout flows without wasting time on avoidable interruptions.
Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence sure isn’t. So let’s try to make all our checkout experiences as ‘invisible’ as possible!