Self-checkout is the most exciting growth area in customer-facing retail IT, with the majority of the world's leading food retailers trialling or rolling out systems. Self-checkout pioneers include Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Auchan, Casino and Metro, with retailers reporting very positive customer feedback.
Several ways to self-serve are emerging. Customers might be scanning with hand-held devices as they proceed around the store and using automated pay points, as with Waitrose's 'Quick Check' system. Most new installations cater for scanning and paying at the end of a shop.
On mainland Europe there is a trend for self-tendering, where checkout personnel scan goods, but the customer proceeds on to a self-payment terminal. Product-level RFID tags will mean goods can be accounted for the moment they drop into a shopping trolley. However, it could be some time before this becomes commercially viable.
Whatever its incarnation, self-checkout frees up staff for other store duties, reduces labour costs, and offers customers a quick, efficient way to transact. Not only can one member of staff oversee at least four self-checkout terminals, the amount of store space is far less than required for traditional checkout aisles. The technology now in play is second-generation and there is much more progress to come, including the use of biometrics for secure payment, says Alan Townsend, retail services director at Wincor Nixdorf, which supplies self-checkout technology to Tesco, Waitrose, Somerfield and Budgens.
"The key going ahead will be to evolve technology that is extremely simple and convenient to use," he says. "This is why our hardware so closely resembles the ATM - it's something customers should already feel at ease with."
At technology provider NCR's 'Self-Service Universe' conference and exhibition in Barcelona in May, NCR president and CEO William Nuti said: "Some retailers in Europe and the US are seeing 10% of revenue or more coming from self-checkout. It delivers competitive advantage."
Self-checkout now comprises 12% of Kroger's PoS lanes in the US, says IHL Consulting Group. Meanwhile, Alcampo (a Spanish division of Auchan) has self-checkout in 15 hypermarkets, and Casino in France has about 270 self-checkout lanes.