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Self-Check out: Will it be the future of Indian retail stores?

Last weekend on Saturday, my mother asked me to accompany her for the monthly grocery purchase to the closest retail store from our home-'D-Mart'. We went to the store in mid-morning around 11am thinking it would be relatively less crowded. But I guess, everyone's thought process was exactly like us and the retail store was buzzing with people. Yet, due to effective and now well placed self-service practice in organized retail stores in India, we did not take too much time to finish purchasing our grocery (Just 30 mins!!). But then it was the time for the herculean task of standing in serpentine queue of billing. It took us approximately 50-55 minutes to finally reach the counter and pay the bill. Though there were 5 different counters with cashiers working as fast as they could, the waiting time was still very high.

Suddenly my mother asked a very innocuous question- "Why do we need to stand in queue? Why can't we have a system where we can swipe the product as and when we purchase, pay the bill on our own and then go? We are spending (or wasting) more time standing in queue than it took us for purchasing items".

It triggered my thinking. 'Check out' being last point of contact with consumers; convenience and pleasure at this point can surely improve satisfaction of consumers by few folds. How can Indian retail stores leverage this opportunity? How can this convenience be provided?

Self-checking out can be one option. So what is Self-Checkout mechanism? In colloquial term, it can be defined as any machine/scanner/system which will allow consumers to scan products themselves while picking them up from shelves.

Some form of self-checking out mechanism has a presence in western world. However, same cannot be said for India. But yes, with invasion of organized retailing and consumers embracing the usage of technology, there is a need and requirement of provision of a self-operating scanner or a self-checkout machine.

In my opinion; the way advent of ATMs minimized total time spent at a bank, in similar fashion; installation of Self-Checkout system will also minimize time spent at a retail store. This will in turn be a key to improve the consumer service and satisfaction.

However, like any other IT implementation, a self-checkout mechanism will have its own advantages and disadvantages. Let's put it down:

Advantages

·         Reallocation/freeing of store employees. Thus they can focus on other operational aspect of store

·         During hurry or lesser number of items to buy, faster payment and check out for consumer

·         Another School of thought: Self-Check out/Payment may not be as fast, but the active participation of consumer in the scanning process will surely result in time appearing to pass faster. Thus a happy consumer J

·         Form of privacy for some consumers in buying some personal items/products/goods

Disadvantages

·         Inefficiency of consumer to operate the machine

·         If there is no re-allocation of store employees then possibility of loss of labor

·         Security issues with the self-checkout machine

·        Self- checkout not feasible for huge/big items (e.g.: electronic gadgets like TV/Refrigerator)

 

So what do you think? Will 'Self-checking out' be the future of Indian Retail?

Leaping ahead, as the buzz word all around is Mobile, will 'Mobile-check out' or 'M-check' out also be a thing to look forward to in Indian Retail scenario?

 

Comments

Why wouldn't it be?

It's popular in the US and UK so it's just a matter of time.


Loss of labour is an advantage to the employer as long as cost to deploy technology will remain less than employment cost and thus a reduced operating cost.

It's a disadvantage to the job seeker only.

Inefficiencies in machine usage will diminish over time as consumers get use to it.

Anyway, how long until there is no cash register at all, you walking out a store will trigger the transaction?

It will eventually catch on. But here is a question.Which format is the best for a self-checkout? Obviously the largest beelines at the checkout are seen at Grocery Supermarkets and Hypermarkets like Big Bazaar? the smaller players or speciality formats may not have the crowd or the need to invest in a self-checkout system. Imagine a rollout of the SC system at Big Bazaar. The complexity of the issues that would be encountered. will drive it out of business.- price discrepancies, customers successfully checking out but leaving bags behind, system not accepting coupons and no associates to help! The entire checkout and the layout of the stores have to be modified. the SC has to be tried in individual departments.I'll leave the threda open for more thoughts.

Well written! My 2 cents..

Almost all the retail stores (Walmart, Safeway, Walgreens, CVS) have self-checkout counters but self-checkout counters are comparatively less in number (probably only 5-15% only) primary reason is these are not used that effectively by people, and do require associates assistance. In addition self-checkout counters take longer time for customers, as customers are less accustomed to scanning and billing etc, i.e. 10 item check out is feasible in say 2 minutes, 50 item check out would take longer and may still require assistance from associates.

One of the chain where I had seen this working relatively well (all counters were self checkout counters with assistance available) was called Fresh in AZ. The idea would be very effective bar-coding of all products including custom packaging ones.

In India context this would be difficult because
1. Everyone religiously swiping every item
2. Availability of bar-coding on all sorts of packaging including custom built packages for bar-code scanners/readers – this would be difficult
3. Available density of electronic payment options and money transactions – checks are also allowed in m/c readable in US, currency is too, but credit cards are used highly in max # of transactions. The cc density is low, thus the invent of mobile payment or some other modes would have to make advancements
4. Technology for bar-codes would have to improve in India stores drastically (not all items are scanned in single-shot at the Indian market chains)
5. Literacy in India is still relatively low, thus ppl are not as enabled as in US.

The self check-out system is similar to the self-help immigration system available in a few countries. I go to a dedicated counter (plenty of them made available), place my passport on the slot provided. If I am cleared, the gate opens. I pick up my passport and go out to collect my baggage.

However, the traditional immigration booth is also available, manned my 2-3 immigration officers.

The point I am making is that traditional check-out counters should still be available.

Important element is to still have a print-out of the purchases. Not only for the customer's perusal, but for the security staff also.

On the subject of store employees, they must not be reallocated. Rather they stay around the self-checkout counter to assist, educate, promote and ensure the satisfaction of the customer is met.

Based on my experience in these retail stores in India, the current issues at check-out are as follows:
- Lack of proper training to the store personnel for faster scanning. Inefficient usage is the primary cause of the "queue slowdown"
- Lack of proper maintenance of these 'check-out' machines
- Improper labelling. The position of the barcode most of the times is not proper which slows down the store personnel scanning the article for check-out.

India as a market has not matured enough for having self check-out kiosks. Though they can be tested in some upmarket stores

Self checkouts are definitely mainstream now and some of the retailers in UK reporting up to 40% sales going through self checkouts in the stores they are deployed in. What is also common in europe (continental europe more than UK) is the scan and go devices, which are basically handheld devices attached to your trolley and you can scan products as you put them in your trolley - so you dont have to empty your trolley at checkout and then bag it again. The scan and go device gets docked at the POS or selfcheckout and you just pay for all the items, cutting down queuing times dramatically.

Self checkouts are not magic. Going by experience of testing these machines, there are a few pain areas which need to be addressed:
1)Some SCO have a weight learning database. i.e. they recognise items placed in the scanning area with their weights. This feature can be misued.
2)Items which are very light (Eg greeting cards)cannot be detected by the weight sensor. So people can escape without billing them.
3)If the currency is not inserted properly (Eg notes are folded), then the transaction cannot proceed. It requires store assistance.
4)Self checkout doesnt mean complete elimination of staff. There is usually one staff member to monitor a group of 6 or 7 SCOs. And this staffer has to be more skilled and technically savvy than your average cashier.
5)The SCO machine itself is quite expensive and needs to be maintained very well to be usable over a long time.
6)SCO cannot be used if there is a technical snag or power failure whereas your manual cashier can always make a sale and postpone entering it in the system with manager's approval.

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