Jan 15 2023

NRF 2023: The New Tech That Makes Frictionless Checkout Easy

As customers return to shopping in-store, experts say that frictionless checkout and a seamless experience are key to shopper engagement.

Now that customers are back in stores, retailers are focused on keeping them engaged. Experts at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show said that the best-performing retailers keep customers returning for repeat visits. Quality products, customer service and a logical store layout are all important, but the critical factor is frictionless checkout. If customers experience slow or delayed checkouts, all the goodwill a brand has built up during the preceding shopping visit may diminish.

In a major push toward digital transformation, retail brands have been encouraged to invest in tech solutions such as mobile point-of-sale, self-checkout kiosks, computer vision systems and robotic automated store environments that remove friction from the checkout process.

The Importance of a Frictionless Checkout Experience

In a conference session with Andy Szanger, director of strategic industries at CDW, and David Dobson, global retail, hospitality and consumer goods industry director for Intel, the discussion focused on the tech and tactics that make frictionless checkout possible.https://www.cdw.ca/content/cdwca/en/brand/intel-interstitial/intel-client.html

“Customers can be fickle,” said Dobson. “A megastore can create the most immersive experience possible with digital signage and first-rate products, but if the checkout line extends from a five-minute wait to a 10-minute or 30-minute wait, people are going to get frustrated. They may even walk away from that purchase you had them on the hook for.”

Solving that problem starts with investing in the right solutions. “Retailers who are investing in more technology are outpacing their competitors,” said Szanger.

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Optimizing the Customer Journey Inside the Store

The ideal shopping experience should feel like an immersive journey. It begins with the search for what the customer is looking for, said Dobson, followed by the excitement of discovery and the gratifying decision to purchase. If that “decision to purchase” moment isn’t followed by a satisfying, simple exit from the store, then the retailer has fallen short.

Szanger added, “Retailers can invest in all the interactive technology in the world, like augmented reality and virtual reality, but they can’t neglect point-of-sale.”

Studies show the final in-store moments for any customer are the most important for brand loyalty. “It’s a critical phase they’ll remember,” said Dobson. “Checkout is more than just ringing up a product. It’s about reaffirming the positive impression of the store overall.”

LEARN: How retailers are modernizing the retail checkout experience.

The Tech Solutions That Are Simplifying Checkout

Self-checkout kiosks, mobile point-of-sale machines, computer vision systems and robotic automated store environments are all improving the checkout experience.

Here’s what you need to know:

Mobile Point-of-Sale

Mobile card readers are becoming more popular because they let retailers bring the checkout process directly to the customer. Although restaurants have long used this technology, retail has been slow to adopt. But mobile point-of-sale is a simple way to increase sales and improve customer service.

“If you have a customer in need of help on the floor, a store associate can come over, solve the purchasing decision ring up the customer in that moment,” said Dobson.

Many retailers are also struggling to implement workforce management systems, and with staff shortages, “this is a simple solution that takes the pressure off the checkout line,” he said.

Self-Checkout Kiosks

Self-checkout technology has come a long way over the past few years. “We’re starting to see more computer vision usage in self-checkout instead of traditional reliance on barcodes,” said Dobson. Because scanning barcodes can be tricky for customers, this is a major improvement, he said.

Computer vision systems allow customers to scan the product on the screen and tap their card to complete the transaction. It’s much more efficient than barcodes, Dobson said. “By increasing the number of self-checkout kiosks, you can also add more checkout lanes and reduces wait times.”

It’s essentially the grocery store checkout model that is widespread now in Europe applied to U.S. retail. In fact, quality management company TRIGO is taking frictionless checkout to the next level. Through a combination of computer vision cameras, artificial intelligence and machine learning software, TRIGO is retrofitting traditional supermarkets into fully autonomous stores.

In an NRF session with Michael Gabay, CEO and co-Founder of TRIGO, and Charles McWeeney, vice president of technology, innovation and strategy for Wakefern Food, the message was that computer vision systems are key to delivering intelligent retail.

Andy Szanger photo
The retailers that are going to be the most successful this year are those that can provide digital innovation combined with a truly exceptional in-store experience to meet and exceed their customers’ needs and demands."

Andy Szanger Director of Strategic Industries, CDW

Computer Vision Systems

Computer vision technology, which often uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, is a costly but comprehensive solution because it registers and scans hundreds of thousands of products.

“Computer vision usage is the future in terms of how customers are going to interact with checkout long-term,” said Dobson. Szanger added that each iteration of the technology is also improving, bringing the price point to a more affordable level.

It’s also, according to Gabay, “the best way to digitize the physical space.” By layering e-commerce into the actual store, “IT leaders can bridge the gap between virtual and physical space,” he said. TRIGO’s computer vision technology uses sensory data to log when a customer picks up a physical item in-store and adds it to their physical shopping cart. If a customer has a change of mind and removes an item, the virtual shopping cart auto-updates the total.

But McWeeney cautioned that making these upgrades can be tough to do alone. “Retailers should establish a timeline for deployment, then work with technology partners to accelerate speed to market.”

EXPLORE: The hottest retail tech trends shaping the industry in 2023.

Robotic Automated Environments

This is the newest and most complex innovation to hit retail to date. It starts with customers selecting the products they want via a curbside or drive-thru screen. In seconds, that request is processed automatically by a robot in the back of the store, which selects the items using AI and ML. The item travels through the store on a conveyer belt and is delivered to the customer.

This store experience requires no human interaction and is becoming particularly popular in pharmacies, an environment where “the customer values speed and privacy,” said Dobson.

Outpace Competitors with Digital Innovation and In-Store Experiences

Retail has reached an exciting moment in the industry’s digital transformation. These tech solutions enable retailers to keep up with customers’ changing expectations so they can stay competitive.

Global retailers are innovating fast, but they still need continued support to sell solutions for the future,” said Dobson.

Szanger agreed. “The retailers that are going to be the most successful this year are those that can provide digital innovation combined with a truly exceptional in-store experience to meet and exceed their customers’ needs and demands,” he added.

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event, and follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference Twitter feed, @NRFnews.

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