MARKS & SPENCER ASSISTS SELF-CHECKOUT WITH KIOSK

LONDON -- While self-checkout lanes have gained a foothold in the U.S., they have been slower to catch on in the U.K. Consequently, Marks & Spencer here, one of the leading users of self-checkout lanes in the U.K., is testing a kiosk-based "virtual self-checkout assistant" designed to encourage and facilitate use of the systems.Marks & Spencer, which initially installed FastLane self-checkout system

LONDON -- While self-checkout lanes have gained a foothold in the U.S., they have been slower to catch on in the U.K. Consequently, Marks & Spencer here, one of the leading users of self-checkout lanes in the U.K., is testing a kiosk-based "virtual self-checkout assistant" designed to encourage and facilitate use of the systems.

Marks & Spencer, which initially installed FastLane self-checkout system from NCR, Atlanta, in three stores, is equipping an additional eight stores this fall with the system. The virtual assistant is being tested at a store in Gateshead, U.K.

Created by Haptek, Freedom, Calif., and displayed on an NCR kiosk, the virtual assistant takes the form of an animated 3D image called an Avatar. The Avatar is based on a real person, in this case Lisa Brand, food manager at the store.

The virtual assistant is activated by a motion detector as customers walk past the self-checkout area. She guides customers through the self-checkout process and answers questions via an interactive touch screen.

According to Derek Taylor, sales and marketing director at London-based KnowledgeView, distributors of Haptek technology outside the U.S., Haptek Avatars are able to display facial expressions as well as gestures, and can be tailored to speak with regional accents. And how does the real Lisa Brand feel? "I am really delighted to be involved," she said. "I believe the Avatar will make a big difference to customers who are keen to use the [self-checkouts] but are reluctant to ask staff for help."