Will H-E-B’s self-checkout pilot take off?

Photo: H-E-B
Aug 03, 2022

The Texas grocery powerhouse H-E-B is piloting a new form of self-checkout at one location that might remind shoppers of a trip to the airport.

The new Fast Scan technology was described by an H-E-B customer visiting the H-E-B Plus! location in Schertz, TX, as allowing customers to run an entire grocery basket through the scanner at once and have it tallied and charged automatically, according to My San Antonio. The described functionality and accompanying image of the scanner recall something that would be used for a luggage (or body) scan at an airport. An earlier iteration of Fast Scan technology, piloted by the chain in 2013, utilized a conveyor belt down which customers could send groceries to have their barcodes automatically read and tallied by a 360-degree scanner.

The new Fast Scan pilot is one in a long list of recent attempts from retailers and tech companies to streamline the checkout process with technology.

Amazon.com emerged as a significant mover in automated checkout a few years ago with the launch of its Just Walk Out technology, which allows customers to pick up items in a store, pay and leave without any scanning or checkout interaction. Earlier this year it rolled out the technology as a checkout option at an Amazon Fresh location in Bellevue, WA, according to a statement on Amazon’s blog. This represented the first time that the technology was implemented alongside conventional check stands rather than in JWO-only stores like Amazon Go.

Amazon also recently announced it had improved the functionality of its Dash Carts and was expanding the use of the carts to Whole Foods locations. The latest iteration of the Dash Cart automatically checks out customers for items placed in the cart and serves on-screen promotions to customers.

Other retailers are opting for upgraded takes on other checkout technology. In June of this year, Circle K rolled out 10,000-plus enhanced self-checkout stations in more than 7,000 stores, according to a press release. The self-checkout technology uses machine vision to recognize each product rather than relying on the customer having to find a barcode.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the Fast Scan self-checkout that H-E-B is piloting having any advantage over other options on the market? What do you see emerging as the most popular form of enhanced self-checkout and why?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution in checkout technology. However what's clear is we are moving more and more to automation and speed."
"H-E-B has been testing this type of technology for many years, even before Amazon came on the scene."
"From a consumer perspective, dropping items into the cart and not unloading again to check out and watch or participate in bagging is huge."

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18 Comments on "Will H-E-B’s self-checkout pilot take off?"

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Mark Ryski

Self-checkout has been around for decades, but this Fast Scan appears to be a meaningful breakthrough. Fast and easy checkout are key factors for shoppers, and so investing in this technology is a well placed bet. While no one technology will be best for all retail environments, this Fast Scan solution looks especially promising for high volume checkout environments like grocery and warehouse stores.

DeAnn Campbell

Faster self-service scanning will help reduce the labor burden on the customer, but still doesn’t solve the need for staff assistance when an item scans incorrectly, or ID and coupons need to be verified. And it’s this staff assistance that is the primary reason for long lines and unsatisfactory customer experience.

Richard Hernandez

H-E-B has been testing this type of technology for many years, even before Amazon came on the scene. The 2013 test was actually pretty cool with the long conveyor belt and 360 degree scanner. It was very accurate as well, but from that test, H-E-B learned to build a better mousetrap. I remember reading some years back about this type of test in pilot in a chain in South Africa, with their system using RFID tags to scan the products.

Jeff Weidauer

Waiting in line to check out has long been at the top of the list of shopper complaints in supermarkets. The only thing surprising about H-E-B’s new approach is that it took this long to be realized. If it works as advertised, it will change the entire shopping experience.

Neil Saunders

There is some advantage here over self-scan as you go around the store as it saves the customer hassle. There is an obvious advantage over regular and self-checkouts as it saves a significant amount of time, and presumably labor cost in the case of manned checkouts. I see some security advantages and perhaps the cost of the kit is cheaper over the walk-out style technology. As I have said before, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in checkout technology. However what’s clear is we are moving more and more to automation and speed.

Cathy Hotka

The key to effective self-checkout is speed, and this take on it sounds like a winner. I have to wonder, though, whether a full cart with $200 worth of groceries will scan accurately…

Richard Hernandez

I can tell you that a lot of testing was done in a lab environment before this went live in a pilot and I can guarantee that they tested (and continue to test) numerous scenarios since people stock their carts in a bunch of different configurations.

David Naumann

The H-E-B Fast Scan self-checkout technology is another example of retailers searching for ways to make the shopping experience more convenient and help alleviate labor shortage challenges. The Fast Scan technology appears to be a less expensive option than technologies that have cameras throughout the store to recognize what shoppers put in their cart. It is also much more convenient than traditional self-checkout solutions. It will be interesting to see how accurately the system recognizes all item in the basket.

David Spear

As checkout technology improves, so will the consumer experience. Assuming H-E-B’s Fast Scan checkout is accurate and speedy, it should be a real plus to the shopping experience and we’ll see this expand to other stores soon.

Gary Sankary

Self-checkout tech is moving really fast at the moment. The goal, in my opinion, is to remove as much of the manual handling of the product from the consumer as possible while still offering an experience that doesn’t feel like Big Brother is bearing down on you with cameras and invasive tracking. From what it sounds like, H-E-B has made a really significant advancement in this space. Personally, I avoid self-checkout at the grocery store. In most implementations of this technology I feel like, as a consumer, I get nothing from the experience. It’s simply a way for the grocer to cut costs by eliminating a service. This technology however changes that. I do see enormous value in scanning a cart in one shot and walking out of the store.

Now if the products can come off the shelf and land in bags ready to go…

Dion Kenney
15 days 5 hours ago

Fast Scan may be the recognition that the checkout experience diminishes customer experience, but the more likely driver is the desire to reduce operating costs by reducing the need for cashiers. In either case, making the process more efficient is a boon to both retailers and shoppers.

Kathleen Fischer

If the self-checkout is fast, accurate, efficient and easy to use, then it should be a win-win option for H-E-B and the customer.

Brandon Rael

The two main friction points for customers are the checkout and returns processes. Both experiences are potentially full of broken, fragmented processes, ultimately leading to much friction. What H-E-B is proposing with their Fast Scan self-checkout is truly transformational and will completely disrupt the in-store grocery operating model positively.

The grocery industry’s previous attempts at disrupting the checkout experience have been mixed. Transferring the effort to the customer is not solving the core challenges of long queues, system issues, and requiring customers to learn the checkout process. In most cases, these self-checkout models have added more confusion and friction to the experience and need store associates to intervene when issues arise.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out for H-E-B.

Tara Kirkpatrick

100 percent. Apptopia estimates mobile performance for 7 million+ apps, and when we look at competitive intelligence for grocery store apps in our platform, self-checkout stands out as a clear competitive advantage. For example — nearly 20 percent of Costco’s user reviews year-to-date are customers complaining about its lack of self-scan technology and saying they will switch to Sam’s Club for the convenient feature.

I rate H-E-B very likely to roll out self-scan successfully because it has invested in its mobile tech stack since starting its app in 2019. Its user reviews have the highest “sentiment score” in Apptopia (ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent, where 100 percent indicates the best positive sentiment score possible) among the top 10 grocery store apps: 93 percent compared to the market average of 75 percent.

Ken Lonyai

Whether it will work or not depends on the technology and cost. Sounds like, I believe it was called Trolley Scan from South Africa, about 20 years ago. I wanted to implement that here, but it used RFID tags and that was (still is) a technology that was “just around the corner” and “poised to take off.” If this is RFID, the in-store technology is much cheaper than the depth sensing camera method, but EVERY product needs a tag.

From a consumer perspective, dropping items into the cart and not unloading again to check out and watch or participate in bagging is huge. Whoever really cracks it for “cheap,” especially with bags in the cart, will reap big rewards.

John Karolefski

All of these new and upcoming self-checkout innovations sound great and should work well for small orders. But for a large basket? Maybe, but only if someone other than the customer bags the groceries. Shoppers won’t like bagging $200 worth of groceries, no matter how fast the products scan.

Brad Halverson

H-E-B deserves kudos for Fast Scan, trying to solve a major customer pain point. Yet I’m not convinced it’s ultimately the best option for the greater shopper base, given it still appears to requires more staff assistance, interrupting time at checkout. Maybe it’s performing really well though?

I’m closely watching the performance of Amazon’s Dash Cart, because picking a product and dropping it into a basket is a natural shopper action. And so having customers move it past an imbedded cart scanner is efficient. For any scan “problem” items, you can group them so as you get to the front checkout, they are ready for staff assistance. Time and hassle savings in theory.

Anil Patel

Post-COVID-19 era, the checkout procedures are transforming. The Fast Scan by H-E-B is in the pilot stage so it’s quite apparent that they are running a trial to gather the actual customer response data. Many brands are experimenting with their checkout processes. Among these, the checkout process that will be easily adopted by most customers will win. So before scaling the pilot for a larger audience the retailers must evaluate the following points:

  1. Who is their target audience?
  2. Does the system align with the audience’s needs?
  3. Is the solution feasible?

​​If we won’t try new things, we won’t be able to evolve. However retailers must do a 360° evaluation before deploying any new idea.

"There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution in checkout technology. However what's clear is we are moving more and more to automation and speed."
"H-E-B has been testing this type of technology for many years, even before Amazon came on the scene."
"From a consumer perspective, dropping items into the cart and not unloading again to check out and watch or participate in bagging is huge."

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