Woodman’s pilots checkout technology Photos courtesy of NCR
NCR's technology in action in a store in Russia.

Woodman’s pilots checkout technology

Hand-held devices and rapid checkout lanes could provide ease for customers

Woodman’s Food Markets in Janesville, Wis., is testing new technology that offers customers quicker checkout options at its Gammon Road location.   

The employee-owned supermarket chain is rolling out a pilot program that includes “rapid checkout” lanes and a hand-held scanning device called the “mobile shopper,” similar to other scanners being introduced by Walmart and Kroger this year.

“Retailers are doing everything they can to enhance the store experience for their customers to build loyalty and make them want to come and shop in their stores,” said Lee Holman, lead retail analyst with the IHL Group.

Because they are fairly concentrated in terms of location, Holman said, Woodman’s has more flexibility to innovate and can learn lessons faster than some of the bigger players. “They are more nimble in responding to market change,” he added.

According to Bill Bishop, co-founder of Brick Meets Click, “The No. 1 complaint about supermarkets is standing in line.”

“Not only do you not have to stand in line,” Bishop said of the new technologies like the ones Woodman’s is using, “you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of putting something in a cart and taking it out of the cart, and letting someone touch it, and then putting it back in.”

Woodman’s has set up an area with around 60 of the hand-held scanners and a screen that explains how to check one out. A light goes on to indicate which scanner is available for use. The customer takes it, then scans and bags as they go.

Items that cannot be scanned with the hand-held device include those that need to be weighed, such as produce, and security items such as wine. Those can be added later. Throughout the shopping trip, the unit’s calculator feature provides the customer with a running total, minus sales tax and coupons.

The calculator feature is a helpful tool for the customer who is concerned about getting to the register and learning they’ve over-purchased, said Donna Stevens, director of store transformation solution management at NCR, the company that produced the technology. “[It] allows budget-conscious shoppers to be aware of what they’re spending while they shop.”

To complete the transaction, the customer proceeds to a self-service checkout lane. In the lane, a QR code appears on a screen and the customer scans it using the hand-held device. The info is automatically transferred to the self-service checkout, where any other products can be added, including weighed items, wine and coupons. The customer self-pays, and leaves the hand-held device at the checkout.

In addition to the hand-held devices, Woodman’s is also piloting rapid checkout lanes. According to Stevens, these lanes are designed to be “as fast if not faster than a cashier” — and customizable, as well. Woodman’s designed the check stands and incorporated NCR self-checkout for payment stations.

Customers who use the rapid checkout lane will have a more traditional checkout experience, while still being able to self-pay. They place items on the belt, which moves them under an arched scanning area — it scans barcodes from 360 degrees, which means that how the item is placed on the belt is not a factor in reading it, and many items can be scanned at once.

Once the items have been scanned, they can be bagged by the customer, who pays as she would at any self-checkout. An attendant is nearby to help. As one customer pays, another can start using the belt.

IHL has found that the groups most likely to embrace self-service technologies such as the ones being piloted by Woodman’s are 18- to 25-year-olds, and the over-60 age group.

Stevens said the impact on the workforce hasn’t been an issue. “It gives them the opportunity to redeploy the labor where they need it.”

Though the industry has attempted similar technology in the past, Bishop feels there are several factors that make it likely to succeed now. They include familiarity and comfort with technology, and the understanding that retailers need to help people learn how to use the system. When implemented well, he said, such as how the Europeans are doing it — making it a privilege for the people who are part of their loyalty programs or who spend regularly at their store — it doesn’t have to expose retailers to additional theft and shrink.

“I know Woodman’s is developing some clever ways to think about how to do that,” he said.   

As for Woodman’s expanding their new technology to other locations, NCR’s Stevens said, “They do have intentions to go to further stores in 2018.”

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