When Amazon announced Amazon Go, its Seattle-based grocery store that allows customers to conveniently make purchases without a cashier or traditional checkout station, the retail world took note. After all, Amazon sets the pace for retail innovation, and while the giant has resources that far exceed those of your average customer, it’s a safe bet that their learnings will trickle down market. Of course, Amazon isn’t alone. Both Starbucks and Panera Bread have piloted stores where customers can order, pay and pick up without interacting with an employee.
Even though these self-service shopping solutions and others are still in their infancy, there’s still plenty that we can learn.
What are the benefits?
At a time when merchants desire ways to improve customer experience, one of the most significant benefits of self-service shopping is the added convenience as it relates to checkout speed. Imagine grabbing the grocery items you need for dinner, skipping the checkout line and walking out the door. The payment was taken automatically through sensors that interact with your smartphone. While some demographics might not be drawn to such a transaction, young shoppers are especially interested. In fact, one recent study showed that nearly half of U.S. shoppers under the age of 45 want stores to offer self-checkout.
There are also benefits to the merchant itself. A lot of technology is needed to facilitate self-shopping solutions, and customers need to be connected to it all via some form of app that runs on their smartphone. As customers shop, their browsing history, traffic patterns, purchase history and literally hundreds of other factors can be gathered by the merchant. Add in a proper data scientist, and priceless trends and behaviors can be identified and made actionable.
Things to consider
With such bleeding-edge solutions, there are bound to be some obstacles and even some concerns. For example, while self-service shopping is more convenient for the customer, it can also have a counter-effect of lack of engagement with the customer.
Additionally, it’s going to take time before customers feel comfortable with this new foreign, albeit convenient, shopping experience. Grabbing your items and walking out the door without a clear checkout process can feel like shoplifting and may make customers uncomfortable.
There’s also the cost of the technology required to pull all this off. Sensors, inventory management, CRM, AI, surveillance cameras and smartphone apps are just the beginning. Still, prices are sure to drop.
Lastly, there’s the bigger question of whether this type of solution to make the merchant more appealing to customers will harm the merchant in the long run. If you don’t include a plan for face-to-face customer engagement, self-service can diminish a store’s uniqueness since there becomes little to separate the experience from that of online shopping. Additionally, data shows that unassisted customers buy less.
Despite any immediate shortcomings with self-service shopping, there’s no turning back. The issues mentioned above will be addressed, and eventually self-service will become the norm. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on the trend and make sure that when your customers are ready, you are as well.