App-free mobile self-checkout empowers customers and store associates

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Sock maker and retailer Stance has shown there is an audience for a pair of well-made socks. It has all the required elements: proprietary fibers, quality standardization (designed by a rocket scientist, no less) and celebrity cache (Rhianna designs a line). Despite the pedigree, though, shoppers are only willing to take so much — so when Stance saw lines that were sometimes as long as 30 minutes during the 2017 holiday season, it was clear the retailer needed to do something.

Last summer, Stance partnered with Moltin to bring self-checkout to its stores and keep those lines moving. “It was convenience for our consumer more than anything,” says Paul Zaengle, Stance executive vice president. “Our lives have gotten so fast-paced, and they continue to pick up speed. It is a question of where we spend our time during the day, and how fast and convenient it is to go to the store and complete a transaction. Self-checkout is about getting consumers in and out of the stores in a quick and convenient way. It’s more future looking than anything,” he says.

“We know that this is where retail is headed, and this was more about us saying, ‘Let’s be there now.’”

Stance will be far from alone this holiday season. Retailers like Macy’s and Walmart have announced plans to deploy some form of mobile checkout in 2018. There is good reason for that: Half of shoppers will avoid a store if they perceive it has long lines, while a third will abandon their items if they believe they’ll have to wait longer than seven minutes, according to a study by the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at University of California Berkeley. “The Future of Self-Checkout” also found that 85 percent of retailers were considering upgrading their point-of-sale systems.

That may be the holy grail that balances ecommerce with bricks-and-mortar; 30 percent of online shoppers say they would return to physical stores if the checkout process was fast and smooth.

Zaengle cites the UC Berkeley study — but he also has his own insight. “There definitely is a cap on how long people will wait in line,” he says. “That is one of the reasons that we went down that path.”

The need for speed

Pairing with Moltin brought another reason: implementation speed. The entire process, from the contract’s signing to full deployment in stores, took less than two months. The self-checkout operates outside a store app; customers access a mobile-optimized website, scan in the barcode and pay using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay. There is no need for the customer in the store to download an app to use the mobile checkout — and no need for Stance to develop an app before deploying it.

Moltin is a “commerce innovation engine” that offers headless application-programming interfaces for commerce applications. “That’s what the power of an API does for someone,” says Moltin CEO Jamus Driscoll. “We’ve broken down the monolithic commerce platform into individual functions, called microservices, that one can use to assemble disparate applications. When you’re equipped with that underlying capability, the speed and ability to deliver new experiences is unparalleled.”

That, ultimately, is what drove Stance to adopt Moltin.

“The ability to build an app-less, customer-first experience in less than eight weeks was the breakthrough on this,” Zaengle says. “We were ready to move fast and get creative, and Moltin was the right partner to make it happen. If a consumer goes shopping at a mall or the local shopping center, there may be 150 different retailers. No one is going to download 150 apps. Especially for a retailer like Stance, that didn’t seem like the right option. We had to find a different way that was easy and fast for the customer.”

Asking shoppers to download an app at checkout only defeated the point of shortening the checkout experience, Zaengle says. “We were waiting for this capability to become available before launching this. That was a big unlock for us and that’s what makes this self-checkout solution something that could work for any retailer out there. Not every retailer can build a cashier-less store from scratch like Amazon, or be a brand like Nike and get consumers to download their app.”

An adoption upswing

Despite the ease of use and implementation, Stance is still learning how to use the tool in its stores. “We had to think about how we message it, and also how we handle the guest experience,” Zaengle says.

Signs direct users to the short URL. A hook just below the sign includes a shopping bag — color-coded to let the store team know a shopper is using the self-checkout function. When the customer leaves the store, they only need to show a receipt. Sales personnel are trained to look for those with the bag. “That way, they can help them if they need to, or they can check the receipt when the person leaves the store.”

While store personnel do need training, the average consumer will not. “The user interface has to be simple, so a customer can use it easily,” Zaengle says.

Store teams especially like the self-checkout option. They can “spend more time on the floor with the customers, educating them about product quality and helping them make product selections,” Zaengle says. “It gets them out from behind the cash wrap.”

Customers have been somewhat slow to adopt it; Zaengle says only about 5 percent of Stance shoppers used self-checkout in the earliest months. “It isn’t normal retail behavior — yet,” he says. “I’m excited for the day when everyone has self-checkout because consumers will expect it.” And they may be more likely to use it during the holiday season when lines are longer and time is shorter.

Driscoll agrees that self-checkout and mobile payments have not yet reached their full potential — and that they may grow together. “In self-checkout, mobile wallet makes it so much faster. It’s a thumbprint versus 26 keystrokes. The reason mobile wallet hasn’t been used as much at checkout is it’s not quicker to use mobile wallet at a POS than it is to swipe a credit card. Self-checkout will get used more when there’s utility, a line in front of you.”

Those who do use the self-checkout are “delighted by it,” Zaengle says. “We see them using it more and more on second and third visits. It’s just a matter of getting them to use it the first time. We’re excited to be driving the future of commerce.”

Shoppers who have used the self-checkout have raved about it on social media, Driscoll says. “This is just about giving them another way to interact with the brand. If they want to go to the point of sale, they can do that. If they want to use the store to guide their own experience to have a half-digital, half-physical experience, this helps them do that. Consumers love the flexibility and the choice.”

Sandy Smith grew up working in her family’s grocery store, where the only handheld was a pricemarker with labels.

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