With the rise of the Internet of Things and smartphone-equipped consumers, the preeminent role of the retail checkout lane may be greatly diminished.
Many shoppers carry sophisticated smartphones capable of doing everything expected of a point-of-sale system, signaling that the day of the handheld self-checkout device may have finally arrived. As RetailWire asked in a recent headline addressing content derived from the Integrated Marketing Solutions blog: "Why do retail stores still have cash registers?"
"Armed with smartphones, consumers have literally become the point of sale. Yet, retailers are still trying to herd them through checkout lanes. How retailers adapt to consumers as the POS is a key predictor of who will thrive," IMS wrote.
The smartphones can scan barcodes, pick up wireless signals such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communication (NFC), perform price searches, tally an order, and settle with the store using a payment system like Apple Pay. They can also provide a store map and discount coupons. The receipt can be emailed and subsequently accessed on a customer's smartphone. That just leaves bagging as the only necessary stop on the way out the door, and one that some retailers like Costco dispense with.
This development has been foreseen for decades, at least since the first Symbol Technologies' handheld scanning devices were tested in a Finast Supermarket located in Lakewood, Ohio, 20 years ago. That test went away, but people kept talking about the potential it held, while the technology kept improving. Today retailers such as Nordstrom and Apple are using mobile checkout, and Apple Stores don't even have checkstands.
IMS makes a strong case for getting rid of the cash register. For example:
-The footprint that checkout lanes take up is considerable.
-Security and theft prevention could remain in place with sensor scan at the exit door.
-Cashiers could be redeployed as associates helping consumers on the floor.
-In-aisle checkouts can be accomplished by associates with smartphones and card readers.
-Self-checkout can be accomplished by consumers using their own smartphones with a specialized app.
-Electronic receipts can be e-mailed to consumers, or printed at portable printers.
-Portable POS devices can still scan bar and QR codes for prices and inventory.
-More sales may be the result of purchases made in the aisle while looking at products.
The RetailWire commenters expressed mixed views on the possible demise of checkstands.
"The rapidly falling prices of product RFID tag technologies in collaboration with the e-payment capabilities of mobile devices is the oncoming asteroid that will render the cash wrap as we've known it extinct," wrote Adrian Weidmann, principal, StoreStream Metrics. A Costco store he visited had a hybrid checkout, where associates scanned items with handheld devices, delivering the transaction wirelessly to the cash register to conclude the shopping experience.
Some things happen at the checkout stand that can't be accomplished with a mobile device, said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research. For example, items are bagged or hung, produce is weighed, security tags are removed, change is made for those paying in cash, an "orderly" way to prioritized who gets checked out first is established, and impulse items get sold.
"This doesn't have to be an "either/or" situation any more than self-checkout has been," wrote Andy Casey, senior partner at Loyalty Resources. "What is needed is a system which allows the customer to decide how to check out rather than forcing them into one method or another."
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