Walmart drops Scan & Go tech – again

Discussion
Source: Walmart
May 17, 2018
George Anderson

Walmart’s self-checkout Scan & Go technology has been a hit with the company’s Sam’s Club members. The same cannot be said for customers at the retailer’s namesake stores. Walmart announced it has ended a test of the mobile technology in its stores.

“We’re testing things all across the country at different stores and it’s about what works best for the customer,” Ragan Dickens, a Walmart spokesperson, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “We want the whole checkout process to be that seamless process. So, if there’s points in the process that are not quite there yet on the seamless front, we take those learnings and we’re plugging them into other areas of the store.”

Interestingly, the Scan & Go pilot was not the first time Walmart has scrapped the technology. The retailer first began testing it in 2012 and expanded the pilot to a few hundred stores at the time. Walmart shut down the test in 2014 after concluding the chain’s customers were not able to figure out how to use the application. 

When Walmart began the latest test at the beginning of last year, the chain’s management was confident its customers were ready. As it turned out, some customers preferred to leave tasks such as weighing produce to cashiers rather than doing it themselves. Others with large carts also found they’d rather leave the work to Walmart’s cashiers, while some, as in the first test, complained of the technology being too difficult to use.

While Walmart is putting Scan & Go on the shelf, the retailer has not completely abandoned the idea of cashier-less checkout. The company is currently testing “Check Out With Me,” which enables associates in it garden centers to ring up customers on the floor using cellular devices and Bluetooth printers. A test of the technology is currently taking place in 350 Walmart stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect Walmart to take a third stab at Scan & Go technology in its stores in the future? Does the Walmart experience have implications for other retailers, particularly in grocery, that are using or planning to use similar technology?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"If Walmart’s customers aren’t ready to use it yet, it’s smart of the retailer to back off and try again later. "
"I am betting that Walmart figures out how to make this work. And if they don’t, they will start over or scrap it altogether."
"Scan & Go is a transfer of work from a cashier to the customer."

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30 Comments on "Walmart drops Scan & Go tech – again"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Fits and starts are just part of evolution and I have no doubt that Scan & Go in some form will be back in the future. I think what the Walmart example shows — and other retailers should heed — is that even the largest, most successful retailers can struggle with delivering a successful outcome of a new technology or process. The most thoughtful retailers are smart enough to hit pause re-evaluate and adjust. It’s not failure, it’s learning, and successful retailers like Walmart understand this.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Technology wants to streamline the checkout function but the solution is not yet there. More development is needed before most customers are willing to be their own checkout person, and the retailer can be assured that payment is being applied. There are also socialization issues such as the decompression and completion of the visit at checkout and the guilt of departing the store without that final checkpoint. We all want streamlined self checkout, but it has to work well.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The guilt of leaving a store without a final checkpoint is big. It’s not something you hear much about. Great point!

Charles Dimov
Guest

It’s hard to think that Walmart will just consider this a sunk cost and completely drop it. I expect they will use the feedback, and figure out if there is a better way to make it work — such that customers gravitate to using it. Sometimes we forget that radical new tech can be risky, and the downside of that risk is that the technology does not get used, or that customers just don’t like it. Good luck on the next version, Walmart!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Walmart will make another attempt. It may not be immediately. Every technology is not for everybody and it is wise (and fortunate) for Walmart to test and learn. Sam’s Club is a different environment with possibly a different customer base. The assisted checkout in lawn and garden should be successful. Other retailers may be able to gain acceptance for their versions of scan and go, but I question the cost of implementing those versions.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I know I am in the minority here, but I can’t get past it. I think scan and go technology is too expensive and too shrink-prone, and requires too much care and feeding to make serious inroads in retail.

It may well be that technology improves enough over the next five years to mitigate these problems but, for now, I just don’t see it.

And by the way, if I want to “scan and go” why wouldn’t I just order online and have the stuff delivered? Then I don’t have to scan and I don’t have to go.

I really don’t get it. Really.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

You’re not alone in this opinion, Paula. I suspect that for many shoppers, the extra effort required to scan items is a minor bummer. As a retailer, I’d prefer my shoppers have their heads up exploring merchandise options as much as possible, versus heads down trying to manipulate the app.

Anne Howe
Guest

As checkout assistance matures within retail, shoppers are going to expect a more seamless experience. Walmart cannot ignore this. In more complex cases, human assistance will make a huge difference in that experience. Retailers are wise to keep testing to get the right mix in place.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I think all retailers can learn something from Walmart and I commend them for listening to their customers. They will most likely find a way to perfect Scan & Go but not any time too soon and only after they iron out all the kinks, making sure they’re giving customers exactly what they want. Listening to your customers is how a retailer remains successful. Walmart is smart not putting their interests ahead of their customers, not sacrificing what customers want for saving a few pennies and not ignoring customers’ desires because it is more convenient for Walmart to do things with technology. This is why Walmart is a leader and not a follower. Other retailers should pay attention!

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

As others have commented, this news doesn’t come as a major surprise. Scan and go in a convenience mart is one thing. Scan & Go in a store like Walmart is something different entirely. While cashier-less checkout is certainly in the cards for the future, much trial and error remains ahead of us as we determine exactly what best suits the shopper. Credit to Walmart for continuing to push for ways to improve the shopping experience, and for not being afraid to stop a project if it doesn’t fulfill its mission for the shopper.

David Weinand
BrainTrust

I think this shows that Scan & Go technology will likely have specific use cases such as smaller and/or simpler (no produce) basket sizes. It doesn’t mean it was a failure but retailers testing this technology should consider what percentage of their customers are apt to use this technology in certain use cases and then determine if roll out will deliver strong enough ROI to proceed. I believe this technology has a real place in FMCG and Big Box — they just have to keep testing.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s hard enough to push a loaded grocery cart around a store, let alone having to deal with what happens at the checkout. At the end of a shopping trip I am thrilled to turn the contents of my cart over to a store associate.

Whether they are buying a single item or a cartload, Scan & Go technology is still a novelty with shoppers, if they even understand it at all. If Walmart’s customers aren’t ready to use it yet, it’s smart of the retailer to back off and try again later. You want to kill a concept? Shove it down the customers’ throats before they are ready to try it.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Scan and go is just one way to check out, best suited for a few items. Unless, of course, a new trend comes along where shoppers enjoy playing cashier! Otherwise scanning a shopping cart of items is not a convenience! Not to mention advertised sale pricing is frequently not updated in the scan and go system. Ugh!
Humans are still needed!

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Chief Strategy Officer, InReality
1 year 10 months ago

My brother-in-law is a manager at a major home improvement store. He can’t interfere at all if he sees someone walking out the door with unpaid merchandise—only the loss prevention person on the floor can. And wow…what he witnesses regarding blatant theft.

I just can’t imagine being able to trust the mass majority of customers at my Walmart to comply with this in a purely honest manner. I just can’t see it. If all items had an RFID chip imbedded that could be audited in for checkout compliance in a nanosecond, then sure. But that’s not feasible right now.

HOWEVER, I do applaud them for experimenting. It’s what they should be doing—learning what works and what doesn’t and what to do next as the outcome.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

That’s why it’s called a test. I am confident that Walmart will continue to test options that address the dreaded checkout experience. Lesson learned from this latest experiment: fit the technology to the customer, not vice versa.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Walmart will take a third stab at Scan & Go, and possibly a fourth, to get it right. They want happy shoppers. All retailers should test new ideas like this with consumers before implementing them chain wide.

Glenn Cantor
Guest
1 year 10 months ago

Walmart may want to consider offering an incentive to customers to get them to try the Scan & Go application. This can be a part of the saving that Walmart realizes by not having the customer checkout at a regular cashier. This can be temporary, to get shoppers to give it a try.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of this idea from Walmart. What I think we can be sure of is that they are taking all of the learnings on-board whether that’s to use in a future iteration of Scan & Go, or more likely to inform checkout and payments options in general. As we all know, we don’t just learn from success. It’s interesting to think about whether other brands experimenting with similar tech are coming up against the same issues and the direction we may see things moving in general.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

There is a reason they call it a “test” and/or a “pilot.” It may seem like a good idea. It may or may not work. So you experiment. There are false starts, tweaks, redos and more to bring a technology to become part of a process. I am betting that Walmart figures out how to make this work. And if they don’t, they will start over or scrap it altogether. They may be a retail institution, but that doesn’t mean they are a dinosaur. On the contrary, they are progressive and always evolving.

Rebecca Fitts
Guest

For most retailers technology changes are an evolution not a revolution — human experiments — which are good. I do think they will return to it — perhaps the consumer needs to catch up to them. Implications abound — for grocery and drugstores not to mention Amazon. It appears there still needs to be a human element — Nordstrom Racked is doing a good job with their Express Checkouts. I was about to abandon my purchase due to a long line when an Express sales associate pulled me over. She couldn’t scan me out on the spot, but a few steps away was her station.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Scan & Go is a transfer of work from a cashier to the customer. The customer supposedly gets a faster checkout and Walmart gets a lower cost of operation. As others have noted, with a few items the concept works well.

With larger baskets, especially those with items sold by weight, the process becomes more complex. The by weight issue might be able to be addressed by weight generated bar codes, but then comes the bagging process. I am sure that many Walmart customers feel they have paid for someone else to perform those services and don’t want to be bothered with doing it themselves.

At Sam’s there are two distinct differences. The customer base has a large mix of retailers buying for their stores. All Sam’s customers are also used to bagging it (or boxing it in Sam’s case), themselves.

Will Walmart try it again? Of that there is no question.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

Any new in-store tech, whether it’s client utilized or sales professional utilized, needs to be launched properly. The key is in sales professionals’ understanding the technology, its implications and its utility. Strangely, I’ve visited Chase Bank probably six times in the past few months, requiring teller assistance each time. Each time, I’ve observed a banking professional guiding and educating customers to the eATMs that now enable a lot more functionality than the traditional ATM. They were keeping it fun, demonstrating its ease, and removing potential barriers towards the technology. “Build it, and they will come” rarely works in retail. If those on the front-line aren’t using the new tech, why would a customer?

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Not sure this solution solves a problem shoppers have. As currently structured Scan & Go shifts the work of checkout to the shopper and adds time to trips. Digital solutions should make the shopper better, smarter or faster.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Here is the one thing that no business can ignore: In our ever increasing “speed economy,” 10% of everyone’s business changes each year. Do nothing for two years and you’re 20% behind your competition. With this perspective, I salute Walmart for not fearing trial. And yes, people will have to get used to it, but I remember when people resisted ATMs and shopping online. We all grow in this 10% arena, and learn, fail, innovate and improve as we go. There is no alternative of experiencing lessons learned from trial and error.

Min-Jee Hwang
Guest

Walmart will continue with similar tests, as their goal is to improve the customer experience. This iteration of Scan & Go wasn’t a hit, but it shows that they are steadily working to make their in-store experience better. With Amazon Go, many grocers and other retailers have added pressure to innovate faster. Anything that could potentially shorten lines and get shoppers checked out faster is always worth a try.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
This is why Walmart called it a test. Sometimes these tests fail. This is just one example. The lesson to learn, however, is not that Scan & Go doesn’t work, it’s that something specific (or multiple somethings perhaps) didn’t work for certain customers and it created more friction than it removed. Walmart is smart to stop the test, and I have no doubt they’ll keep trying it until they find the right formula for success. I believe one issue is that Scan & Go just doesn’t lend itself to large baskets of merchandise. It works great in convenience formats and in an Apple store where you come in to by one or two items. The question for Walmart is, how many of their customers shop that way when visiting the store? And in the situation where customers know what they want, why wouldn’t they just order online and pickup in-store instead? Surely these are factors in their test methodology. Also, if the feedback is that the app is hard to use, that’s not a criticism… Read more »
Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 10 months ago

New technologies that require consumers to learn new processes have typically taken time to change consumer behaviors. When self-checkout terminals were initially deployed in grocery, consumers were very slow to embrace the new technology and many grocers aborted the pilots. Even today, there are segments of consumers that avoid self-checkout terminals and even those that are frequent users will opt for a staffed checkout lane for complex items that require look-up or weighing or when they have a large number of items.

Scan & Go technology will likely have its time as the technology gets better and consumers learn to use it at more retail brands. Another likely scenario is that scan-less checkout technology will leapfrog the self-scanning and shopping will be even more convenient. I believe RFID isn’t dead and is about to make this a whole lot easier. If you eliminate the weighing by packaging and move to RFID the whole process is as simple as grab and go.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Older shoppers generally will not want to scan and bag while walking around the store. They rightly feel that is the job of the store associates. Why do their job?

Younger shoppers, on the other hand, likely think it’s cool technology, and it is. They don’t mind being fooled into doing the work of store associates. Eventually, they will wake up, IMHO.

Scan & Go is just another example of technology for technology’s sake. If it’s available, it must be good. Sure, it’s always good, until shoppers say it’s not.

William Passodelis
Guest
1 year 10 months ago

I agree, in that I applaud them in the attempt. However, like others, I cannot imagine the shrink nightmare that this must bring! It is just a failure of humanity in that some will want, and take full advantage of the “five finger discount” — and use it again and again.

Call me cynical, but a LOT of merch is going to walk out without any payment.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
Self-scanning is now well accepted in Europe and in many U.S. retailers, so why are Walmart having such a major problem with this? Or are they just being smart, trialing to see how well it works but holding back on major investment until the game changing technology aligned to RFID finally becomes a reality? That day is fast approaching with companies like PervasID, a newcomer out of Cambridge University in the U.K., who are now achieving +99.8 percent accuracy and read rates on mixed pallets and baskets of items (and the cost of the equipment is significantly lower as well). This technology will quickly make self-scanning obsolete and take away some of the negatives mentioned by Walmart, in particular customers’ aversion to doing the work for the retailer on large trolleys. Implementing self-scanning is a large capital outlay if the life-cycle is short. We have been talking about RFID for so long it has become an industry joke. However, that market is developing very fast now and with the new technologies mentioned and tag prices… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If Walmart’s customers aren’t ready to use it yet, it’s smart of the retailer to back off and try again later. "
"I am betting that Walmart figures out how to make this work. And if they don’t, they will start over or scrap it altogether."
"Scan & Go is a transfer of work from a cashier to the customer."

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