‘Nobody Has Cracked The Code Yet: HEB, Walmart, Kroger Keep Testing Selfcheckout Technology

‘Nobody Has Cracked The Code Yet: HEB, Walmart, Kroger Keep Testing Selfcheckout Technology

Along the way, they take a portable scanner, shopping bags, and scan the QR code in their cart or cart. Then, as they shop, they scan the items as they are picked and packed.

When they're done, they go to Quick Check, scan another token, and weigh their cart or carts. If the weight matches the scanned items, they pay at the counter and leave.

HEB said the round-trip scanning is part of a limited pilot program. If it is accepted by consumers because it is effective, consumers may be able to make their purchases more efficiently.

"At HEB, we continue to value and leverage innovative technology in all areas of our business," the spokesperson said.

San Antonio grocery isn't the only one using technology to improve shopping. Besides HEB, many others—Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, ShopRite, Amazon, Costco and Hy-Vee, to name a few—are experimenting with self-preservation systems.

But it's more than just customer convenience. Retailers are looking for ways to reduce labor costs and improve profitability.

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"It's a 100% job killer," said Steve Rowan, managing partner of Retail Systems Research in Austin.

But offering faster options to shoppers who want to avoid long lines can make the retailer more competitive.

"If I was short on time and shopping every week as a consumer, I would be in and out as quickly as possible to streamline the process," said Rob Weisberg, senior director of Incentives and Loyalty. at Inmar Intelligence, an analytics firm based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Code breaking

Many retailers have replaced at least some of the checkouts with terminals where shoppers scan and fill out their items and then follow on-screen instructions to proceed to checkout. In recent years, many have created mobile apps for scanning and paying.

Walmart and Kroger have tested stores that use only self-service checkouts. In 2020, Kroger began implementing Everseen AI in its stores to help reduce shopper checkout errors.

Kroger is also testing belt self-checkout as items scanned by customers move down the conveyor to the pick-up area. In 2013, HEB tested a 360-degree scanner that automatically captures a barcode on each item as it moves along a conveyor belt.

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Amazon's Just Walk Out system tracks the items shoppers buy and charges when they walk out. The company also offers smart carts that allow customers to pay without waiting in line.

But many of these changes have been incorporated into each store within each chain.

"No one has cracked the code yet," Weisberg said. "The highway is lined with failed attempts at success."

Many issues and concerns, including theft, system failures, and the high costs of implementing new technology, prevent retailers from expanding their inventory into more stores. East Coast supermarket chain Wegmans shut down its self-service program last fall, citing losses.

And if the technology doesn't work as advertised (for example, wearables that don't scan properly) or is too complex, consumer frustration can threaten brand loyalty.

"polarized issue"

"Automation is a controversial topic for consumers," said Carol Spekerman, president of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based consulting firm. Others worry about automation displacing workers or complaining about a lack of service. »

Shoppers are generally reluctant to unpack, scan and pack goods, said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at London-based analytics and consulting firm GlobalData.

"It takes time, it can cause interruptions that require the intervention of employees, and it is difficult for large grocery stores," he said.

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Rowan moved from Boston to Austin and remembered the handheld scanner system that Northeast grocery chain Stop & Shop was testing in its stores. She said she didn't look fashionable.

"People are in a hurry and they want to get in and out, but if technology makes it easier," Rowan said. "It should be easier to use than to discard."

According to him, the cost of scanners, cameras, sensors and other technological components in many grocery stores is prohibitive.

Despite the bonus. According to a report by the Food and Beverage Association, the share of cash transactions in grocery stores will increase to 30% in 2021, almost double the share in 2008.

The association said retailers rushed to add and use scanning technology in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the situation has since "settled".

More than 20% use mobile payment systems, and more than a third plan to do so. These options are backed by credit or debit cards, which are costly for merchants due to high interchange fees, according to the report.

According to Weisberg, some industries have made self-service terminals more attractive than employee interactions. For example, many people prefer to use an app or an ATM to deposit a check and an airport kiosk to get flight information, rather than waiting in line to speak with a teller or agent.

Despite the challenges facing retailers, "it's clear the entire industry is moving in that direction," Weisberg said.

HE-B diet

It is not yet clear how long Schertzen's HE-B pilot program will last and whether it will be expanded to other stores in the chain. The company declined to be interviewed.

"HEB uses a smart test-and-learn approach to integrate automated solutions," said retail consultant Spiekerman. "While it's much easier for retailers to decide and move forward, retail today is about choice. Shoppers want choices, and it's clear that HEB is trying to create them."

The company, which has more than 420 stores in Texas and Mexico, has invested in and improved its technology over the years.

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HEB launched Pickup in 2015 and has since added the service to many of its stores. In partnership with Swisslog Logistics, the company has implemented automated micro-processing centers in its facilities and allocated additional square meters in its stores to collect and store orders on high streets. In 2018, the company acquired Austin-based Favor Delivery and expanded that capability.

The company is testing HEB Go, a self-saving mobile app, in several stores. It can be used at more than a dozen HEB stores in the San Antonio, Austin and College Station areas, as shown on the included map.

In 2019, the company announced a partnership with Udelv, a self-driving car-sharing startup, to test self-driving trucks on the streets around its Olmos Park store. Information about the status of this test has not been shared.

Among the test payments, HEB conducted a mobile wallet trial in 2017 that allowed customers to enter their debit or credit card information into the company's app and pay by scanning a barcode with their phone at checkout.

To the chagrin of some customers, they cannot use Apple Pay at HEB. A recent TikTok video of a woman dressed as HEB saying, "Every time someone asks why Apple Pay wasn't available if we only had a dollar" in hand has garnered hundreds of likes and thousands of views and comments from disgruntled customers. .

Retail analysts describe HEB as an innovative company that carefully tests and selects investment techniques. In a competitive industry, you have to be vigilant.

"HEB is holding its own on the technology front, but will need to up its game, especially as Texas continues to serve as a training ground for competitors, including Amazon," Speicherman said. "Initially, it makes sense for HEB to be particularly vigilant when testing different technologies, especially with customers in mind. Once the bug is resolved, HEB will be able to continue to expand its arsenal of equipment.

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