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Albertsons to deploy self-checkout across banners

Rollout marks grocery retailer’s ‘re-embrace’ of technology

Albertsons Cos. aims to bring self-checkout to all of its nearly 2,300 stores by the end of its fiscal year.

The nation’s second-largest supermarket operator said Tuesday that it’s working with Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions to deploy self-checkout stations across its 20 store banners in 34 states and the District of Columbia. For some stores, the rollout will mark the debut of self-service kiosks, while other locations will be upgrading their existing Toshiba system, Rucha Nanavati, group vice president of information technology at Albertsons Cos., said in an interview.

The move signals a reversal of sorts for Albertsons, which in recent years had removed self-check stations from many stores.

At the time, the retailer said it wanted to encourage more interaction between store associates and shoppers. In addition, the company noted that self-checkout presented some issues that marred its benefits, including incompatibilities with systems from acquired stores and new payment technologies as well as frequent interventions by store staff to help customers having problems with scanning and bagging items.

Currently, Albertsons has implemented Toshiba’s System 6 self-serve solutions at its Jewel, Acme, Shaw’s, Safeway, Carrs, Tom Thumb, Randalls and Vons retail banners. The Boise, Idaho-based grocer expects to begin deployment of Toshiba’s new System 7 self-checkout at some stores later this year, Nanavati said.

Other Albertsons Cos. banners include Albertsons, Pavilions, Star Market, United Supermarkets, Market Street, Amigos and Haggen and Lucky.

“Some of our stores did not have self-checkout, and now they will be getting self-checkout. Also, a number of our stores have had self-checkout and will be replacing legacy systems with new ones from Toshiba,” Nanavati explained. “We are implementing System 6 right now and are testing System 7. We do have a target in mind, a large number to roll out this year, and for the rest of them as we are done with testing and ready to deploy in our environment, we will go to System 7.”

With the Toshiba implementation, Albertsons expects to speed up checkout — from the time waiting in line to payment — as well as improve operational throughput and decrease interventions by store associates to assist customers encountering difficulties scanning and paying for their items.

“The focus is always on what customers want, and that’s where we want to go,” Nanavati said. “You see a lot of studies out in the market, and it’s more and more evident that people’s single biggest complaint is having to stand in a line. We want to eliminate that as much as possible and give our customers options as to how they want to check out. A lot of people prefer self-checkout, especially if they have a small basket. So we have standard lanes and self-checkout lanes to provide as many options as we can for customers.”

On average, stores have around six self-checkout stations, but the number varies by location, according to Nanavati. The new systems are expected to create more seamless checkout experiences by removing friction from the in-store journey.

“The newer self-checkout kiosks are quite user-friendly, especially the System 7 ones. They have a guiding light that directs customers on where they should pay attention next — here’s where you look, this is where you pay, this is where the change comes out, etc. It’s less friction and less intervention for the customer,” she said. “The underlying theme is a better customer experience and service.”

Albertsons also is testing mobile point-of-sale and “line-busting” solutions that can further cut the time that customers spend at checkout.

“Mobile POS is an extension of our Toshiba POS system on a mobile device. You can check out customers, as long as you’re able to scan items, and they can pay and be done,” said Nanavati. “Line-busting is when if all our registers are full and there are long lines, we can scan all of your items and suspend the transaction. So when you reach the front of the line, you can retrieve the transaction and pay and leave more quickly. It can save a lot of time for customers. Both of those we are piloting in our stores right now on a small scale.”

At stores where the new Toshiba systems have been deployed, Albertsons has seen a strong response from customers, who are using self-service for a rising number of transactions.

“It has been very positive. You always have bigger baskets going through the standard lanes. But when we looked at this, we’ve seen that a lot of Millennials prefer to do their own thing. So we put self-checkout in the stores that didn’t have it, and we’ve gotten absolutely positive feedback,” Nanavati said.

Besides applications to improve the shopper experience, Toshiba’s modular system provides the flexibility for Albertsons to arm store managers and associates with tools and information to help shoppers in real time. For example, Nanavati said, the retailer plans to add the TCx Elevate Mobile Operations Manager app, which will allow associates to clear interventions, perform overrides and scan items on the bottom of the basket directly from their mobile device.

“This provides the ability for attendants to assist customers faster,” she added.

According to Anuj Dhanda, executive vice president and chief information officer at Albertsons Cos., the new Toshiba technology is already yielding results.

“Our partnership is resulting in a smoother experience for our shoppers using self-checkout by reducing the interventions they experience,” Dhanda said in a statement. “Toshiba’s strength in applying machine learning and intelligence to the checkout process across our 2,200-plus stores will enhance how we serve our shoppers and build greater trust with our loyal customers.”

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