Fujitsu Brings Euro-Style Two-Step Checkout To U.S. Will It Work On Main Street?

Fujitsu is hoping retailers in the United States will embrace a checkout system used by some European stores, but untested in the U.S., that splits scanning and payment processes into two different stations in the store. If American retailers decide to switch to this system, it will call for a significant overhaul of their current checkout systems.

The Hypermarket U-Scan Genesis Payment Station works by allowing products to be scanned at one station--by a cashier--and then paid for at another--via self-checkout. After the cashier scans the items, the customer pays for them at the U-Scan Genesis Payment Station, freeing up the cashier to move on to the next customer.

The approach is billed as one that accelerates the entire checkout process. But a more accurate way of looking at it is that it splits the checkout process into two segments. It both shortens the grocery-scanning lane and moves the slower payment portion to another area of the store, where long lines may be less objectionable. Sometimes, line backups stretch into main aisles, discouraging customers and interrupting storeflow.

"What's fundamentally different with this design is that (when customers are) done offloading all their items onto the belt, (they) can move forward with their cart, give their cart to the bagger and then step up to a payment station," said Paul Burel, Director of U-Scan Marketing Strategy. "If your front-end can do double the capacity with half the space and still have human beings helping and adding a little bit of technology, you're effectively breaking the transactions up into two pieces: itemization and tendering. It makes sense."

Burel said his team is in discussions with some unidentified large American grocery retailers, who he said are planning to start trials of the system by next year.

The U-Scan uses Fujitsu's iPAD and has been deployed in Europe for about 16 months. It costs roughly $13,000 per lane, plus the cost of a self-checkout unit, which costs about $1,500 a year, according to Burel.

IHL President Greg Buzek said the task of reconfiguring the setup may be one of the reasons the U.S. hasn't used this concept yet. He added that European stores typically close around 7 p.m., as opposed to U.S. stores, which stay open later. Because of this early closing time, he said European stores are swarmed with customers between 5 and 7 p.m. U.S. store traffic, in contrast, is typically spread out more, so separating the payment from the scanning station may not be worth revamping the entire system, Buzek said.

"Lanes have to be far enough apart so the customer can be down there with their cart and have room for their cart to be able to bag and load up," Buzek said. "That's your challenge. Typically, you're just not set up that way."