Smart Assist

Blog: What Makes the Difference between a Good and Bad Shopping Experience?

August 03, 2021  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

Self-checkout in retail clearly is a keeper. Expedited by the pandemic, many retailers now either offer self-service checkout or are considering it. And why not? Self-checkout is more convenient for shoppers, more efficient for both retailers and shoppers alike, and saves floor space as well as staff capacity—and  staff can now help customers in other areas of the store.

The Downside of Self-Checkout
However, self-checkout processes are vulnerable to interruptions. An internal study carried out at four leading grocery retail chains across the UK, Poland and Germany indicates that the average self-checkout time increases by 50% to 100% with each interruption. Think about a customer purchasing a bottle of wine or tray of beer. These are age-restricted items, and hence need “clearance” by store staff before they can be added to the transaction. Another example of an interruption are items with barcodes that are not recognized by the scanner. At a traditional checkout station, the cashier is trained to handle and solve this. 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. These issues can erode customer acceptance and confidence in self-checkout in general.

Stay Alert to Spoilers
Whereas obstructions in store normally are met by store associates, for self-checkout it will be the customer who first witnesses a hiccup. This makes it extremely important to analyze and map out potential process disturbances upfront, and implement an appropriate solution to ensure the issue doesn’t occur in the first place, or that staff are ready to support. It’s not that each and every interruption can be eliminated, but at least staff should be enabled to intervene as quickly and conveniently as possible in order to minimize shoppers’ frustrations.

There are several common causes that require staff intervention:
  • age-restricted items (no alcohol sales under a certain age)
  • quantity-restricted items (no more than X items per customer)
  • unexpected items in the bagging area (item barcode not recognized by the scanner)
  • unexpected increase or decrease of the scale (weight of item does not correspond with the item scanned)
  • mismatched items (wrong item is scanned)
  • system malfunctioning and other exceptions that require store staff to help

  • Does this mean you should no longer consider self-checkout in your stores? The answer is a clear “NO” as the benefits of self-checkout outweigh the possible interruptions, provided you have thought about how to handle interventions properly.

    How to Handle Interventions Smoothly
    The key to solving interruptions smoothly is ‘smart assistance’. With this, we mean smart technologies in the hands of store associates that enable them to remotely assist customers in case an intervention is required. Smartphones, tablets or wearables can be used by a mobile store attendant, who can resolve checkout interruptions like age verification remotely. This also allows the same attendant to help multiple customers at the same time. Moreover, smart assistance technology reduces non-malicious shrink by instantly flagging issues, such as unexpected items in the bagging area, or a mismatch between items scanned and the total weight of items on the security scale.

    Case in Point: Smart Assistance for Tesco Customers 
    A great example of smart assistance that improves the consumer journey is Tesco’s “Call a Colleague” service. Tesco is a leading multinational retailer headquartered in the UK, with operations in five countries across Europe: the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Tesco serves many millions of customers every week, in stores and online. Tesco has deployed self-service kiosks across its Tesco Extra stores. These kiosks allow customers to call a staff member for help, for example, when they cannot find an item. After having called for help via the kiosk, the shopper receives a service ticket and can watch the status on screen until a staff member arrives.

    Combining Smart Assistance with Smart Vision
    In some cases, interventions can also be avoided completely. Using smart vision solutions, with a camera mounted on or near the self-checkout device, many interruptions can be prevented. By applying sophisticated algorithms based on AI, these smart vision solutions can be used for automatic item recognition to solve issues with mismatched items, for example. The technology can also recognize someone’s age by matching facial characteristics to a database. Some algorithms can even successfully match faces that are partly covered by a scarf or a face mask. Leveraging smart assistance technology, only the negative matches (i.e. the ones scoring below the age threshold) are automatically forwarded to a mobile attendant and can be resolved quickly. And the numbers are impressive: according to a ResearchGate study, these kind of technologies reduce the number of interventions by 80% to 90%!

    Concluding Remarks
    Let’s take a step back: The main reason to introduce self-checkout is to reduce friction in shopping journeys. Customers ultimately want to be in control of how they shop and checkout—simple, fast, done. To make this happen, you need proper intervention handling. Otherwise, customers can get tripped up in self-checkout waiting for staff to intervene and remove an obstruction. So, what does make the difference between a good and bad shopping experience? Smart assistance technology. In our modern retail world, it’s indispensable for handling self-checkout interventions adequately and conveniently—and driving optimal customer experiences every time.

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