Cashier-less stores: Fail or fortune

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Will the implementation of cashier-less stores completely wipe out those ‘brick-and-mortar’ organisations?

I spoke with retail expert Christopher Baird, to find out whether the investment into cashier-less stores is really worth it for organisations.

Do you think more organisations will begin to invest in cashier-less stores?  

“In the future we’ll see more retailers dip their toe into the world of cashier-less stores; many will already be having those discussions right now, and probably far more than you think. There are already a number of tech companies offering products or services that can help retailers in this area, but for the most part it’s not the technology itself that would make this a success for retailers who invest. It’s more about the way they implement it, what the shopping experience is like for the end consumer and having a clear understanding of the problem they’re trying to address.”

“Before shifting towards the cashier-less concept, it’s important to make sure the retailer understands why they want to move in this direction. I think we’ll see a lot of brands testing or piloting the concept in some way or another, considering elements of the technology (especially smartphones) have such wide adoption. However, it is likely that many will not make it past the trial stage, as there are high technology hurdles such as getting an accurate picture of which specific item makes it into the basket and what doesn’t, and it will therefore be difficult for them to effectively manage profit protection. This recently stopped Walmart, for example, from taking their trial forward.”

Which industry do you think will get the ball rolling with this ‘cashier-less’ idea?

 “We’ve already seen a lot of attention in this space from the grocery sector, obviously led by grocery newcomer Amazon and their ‘Amazon Go’ concept. However, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been experimenting in this space with their ‘Scan Pay Go’ and ‘SmartShop’ concepts respectively.

“Quick-service restaurants is another area I think we’ll see a lot more of this. At one end of the scale, Tossed have introduced self-pay kiosks that have allowed them to redistribute staff to their kitchens and food production services. Their stores are cashier-less, but they’ve maintained a very strong human-presence with their open kitchens where customers can see their food being made. At the more futuristic end of the spectrum, Eatsa (a California restaurant and technology business) uses ordering kiosks and apps combined with space-like cubbies or lockers to create a far more human-free environment.”

“Health and beauty, and fashion retailers would also be well-suited to this type of store experience, where the physical size of goods is smaller and there are opportunities for visual recognition or other technologies such as RFID, but each type of retailer – and indeed each brand – will have its own unique set of challenges that they’d have to overcome when looking into such a store concept.”

 “Much of it will come down to the level of human service interaction that’s typically offered during a customer journey. If it’s high (for example luxury retail, or automotive), then the advantages of scan-and-go technology are limited. So, for the moment, low-value, highly transactional retail feels like the right place for this to succeed.”

When organisations implement cashier-less stores, what potential obstacles do you think they may encounter?

 “What retailers need to understand is that a ‘cashier-less’ store doesn’t mean a ‘human-less’ store. Shelves still need to be restocked, orders may need to be freshly prepared in quick service restaurants and customers will still want to be offered some level of service if something goes wrong (which it will).

 “Brands also need to be considerate of the value that their staff bring to the organisation. An emotional connection between a consumer and a brand is far more likely to create ongoing brand loyalty than a purely transactional experience, and the staff are an immensely important part of that. Many retailers rely on their staff to evoke the brand personality that makes shoppers come back, and stripping this away to a series of screens and boxes may work for some retailers but could be disastrous for others.

 “Of course, it is likely there would have to be a significant investment in technology to make this happen, which isn’t necessarily a position that a lot of high street retailers are currently in. Shopper tracking and face recognition, individual-level product tracking, high-volume, high-resilience wireless infrastructure across a whole store – there’s lots of technology required which many retailers don’t have great experience in. Profit protection and service intervention are also operational points which retailers will need to bear in mind as they venture into this area. Even then, sophisticated technology doesn’t necessarily create a memorable customer experience, which is what will ultimately tip the scales in a retailer’s favour.”

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