As retailers continue to find new ways to improve the customer experience, there have been significant changes to way we shop and pay for items in supermarkets. Where we once thought self-checkouts were the height of convenience, by increasing their payment system’s capabilities new technology is enabling retailers to offer an even faster, more convenient service. This is something we have seen with the recent announcement that Marks and Spencer (M&S) has launched a ‘Mobile, Pay, Go’ service which allows customers to download a mobile app which they can use to pay for items.
This development means that all major grocery stores in the UK, with the exception of Aldi and Lidl, now allow shoppers to use an app to scan products as they make their way around the supermarket. For the majority of supermarkets, this technology is currently only being trialled in a select number of stores before being rolled out to more and more stores in the coming year. We can see from this growing trend that grocery stores are competing to offer the best and most convenient customer experience by implementing the latest technology. However, is scanning technology really as convenient as it seems, and will it stand up against alternative methods to capture products in virtual baskets?
While current mobile-based scanning services may benefit from improved code recognition based on using the fastest mobiles and processors, they fall short in many real-life scenarios. For instance, at the very least, scanning technology requires the customer to hold both the mobile and the product they wish to scan whilst navigating a busy supermarket aisle. That in itself can be challenging, but this situation has a number of variables which can make it even more difficult, such as holding a basket or pushing a trolley, or hardest of all, doing that with young children. According to M&S, ‘Mobile, Pay, Go’ enables customers to purchase their lunch in under 40 seconds.
While this may be the case in that scenario, in most other situations where customers are looking to buy more items or when the store is busier, it is unlikely the experience would be quite so quick. In short, scanning technology isn’t compatible with most real-life grocery shopping situations and arguably suits the supermarket more than it does the customer.
Nobody likes scanning with a mobile
As retailers look to find an alternative solution that is more customer friendly, rather than scanning, customers could see the introduction of ‘tapping’. This would allow shoppers to ‘tap’ price labels of products they wish to purchase which would then be added to their virtual ‘basket’ using near-field communication (NFC) technology. This method would make the process dramatically easier, as it wouldn’t require customers to hold multiple items, for a start, and is estimated to be four times faster.
At jisp, we have conducted our own research asking shoppers about their experience which has proven categorically that scanning using a mobile is not liked. Additionally, when we spoke to stores who provide smart apps for scanning, they confirmed that the systems put aside to take payment are hardly ever used, which clearly suggests shoppers aren’t scanning.
Since M&S and Sainsbury’s utilise their mobile apps to take payment and with M&S restricting sales to under £30, it would suggest both facilities are aimed at the convenience shopper looking to make a quick dash to buy their lunch, for example. Given the dislike of this technology by a large number of shoppers, it seems early adopters are those that are eager to avoid queues and as such are willing to overlook the clumsiness. As so few shoppers are downloading and using the apps, they are failing in their mission to reduce the size of queues in supermarkets.
Furthermore, these apps can’t manage the sale of restricted items, such as medicines and alcohol, nor do they facilitate a greater depth of information for the shopper who might wish to dig deeper into understanding what they are buying. They, therefore, appear to be incompatible with shoppers looking to purchase more than a handful of items.
Ultimately, retailers continuing to use the method of scanning barcodes is limiting the advancement of technology and convenience. While the current technology on offer in ‘Scan & Go’ apps appears to be adding convenience to the shopping trip, it has some way to go before it is truly a better option than just queuing at the till.
To offer a genuinely convenient experience, in the future, retailers should look to replace their ‘Scan & Go’ technology with ‘tap&go’. This technology doesn’t require shoppers to hold their mobile throughout the trip and is just as effective and arguably quicker than the current method, particularly as scanning the barcode on certain items can be tricky and take several attempts. Not only would adopting ‘tap&go’ technology make grocery shopping easier, but it also has the potential to make it a more pleasant experience, reducing the length of queues and freeing up more staff to offer better customer service on the shop floor. This would be particularly useful during busy shopping periods, such as Christmas when the majority of customers want to get in and out of the supermarket as quickly as possible.
As some supermarkets in the UK compete to roll out ‘Scan & Go’ technology across stores nationwide, surely, it’s only a matter of time until they take a closer look at the uptake of the apps among their customers and realise their unpopularity. Vitally, the demand from customers isn’t purely to avoid queues at the till but is in fact for a stress-free, less clumsy solution that facilitates a quicker and smoother shopping experience.
As we look to 2019, it’ll be interesting to see which supermarkets continue to implement scanning technology and which start offering up the more convenient and smarter tapping technology. By investing in newer, more innovative technology, supermarkets will be able to answer consumer demand for convenience and improve the customer experience by making it faster, more efficient and stress-free. For retailers, the competitive advantage of implementing this new technology should not be underestimated.
Julian Fisher, CEO, jisp
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