How self-service systems are helping to shape the future of retail and hospitality
by Jennifer Meyer
Customers expect convenient and fast shopping experiences. At the same time, retailers lack the staff to always serve them quickly. Many retailers increasingly rely on self-service in stationary customer journeys.
Companies the world over are both collaborating and competing to develop self-service systems and self-service checkouts that enable an autonomous shopping experience. We present some solutions.
Self-checkouts (SCO) allow customers to scan and pay for their products themselves. A major advantage is the shortened waiting time at the checkout. In addition, self-checkouts alleviate the problem of staff shortages in the retail sector. Since fewer staff are needed at the checkout, employees can be deployed more efficiently on the shop floor for more personal customer service opportunities.
Mobile self-checkout: smartphone meets self-service checkout
One solution to meet customer demands is scan-and-go technology - also known as mobile self-checkout. shopreme has made it its mission to help shape the future of brick-and-mortar shopping: "It's about feeling, tasting, smelling, or trying a product in person - and that's something e-commerce simply can't offer." Florian Burgstaller, CEO and co-founder of shopreme, explains. "We've never understood why retailers don't rely on technology to solve omnipresent problems like endless queues at the checkout. Since consumers have their smartphones with them all the time, it was obvious for us to use these devices to scan products and pay for purchases."
shopreme has also understood that not all consumers are ready for smartphone shopping yet. In spring 2023, the Austrian company, together with the shopfitting experts from umdasch, introduced a product innovation: the shopreme matrix self-checkout kiosk. A self-service checkout that allows customers to choose between different customer journeys:
Scan products at the shopreme matrix and pay there by card.
can products while walking through the store with the Scan & Go app and then pay by card at the self-service checkout.
Scan products in the store with the scan & go app, pay directly with the app and simply walk past the checkout.
Bye bye barcode search: self-service for DIY stores and furniture retailers
Other suppliers are also focusing on self-service checkouts to prepare retailers for the future of shopping. Pyramid Computer has entered the race with the Polytouch® NANO, among others. This is expected to do just as well at self-checkout in DIY stores or furniture stores as it does in food retailing. An additional handheld scanner makes checking out, even large and heavy items that are reluctant to be removed from the shopping cart, child's play.
In the near future, however, Pyramid Computer wants to make shopping even more convenient: The LED light that guides self-checkout at NANO today will soon be swappable for an image sensor that shoots high-resolution images of items for a machine-vision solution. An AI-supported process recognizes the items in a fraction of a second, without the need to search for and scan barcodes.
Image recognition: less waiting in the cafeteria line
Self-checkout terminals with image sensors are not only found in the retail sector. Intelligent systems are now also widespread in the catering industry, especially in canteens and cafeterias. One of them: visioncheckout from auvisus. The Karlsruhe-based start-up has set itself the task of "teaching cash registers to see." Using AI-based image recognition, visioncheckout captures the food and items on the tray and books them into the POS system – without guests having to spend a long time finding their way around screens to find the soup of the day or the bowl with extra feta. The narrow visioncheckout is installed directly at the tray chute. If a new dish or another item needs to be added to the system, all it takes – auvisus says – is to take a photo with the visioncheckout camera to teach it to the device. This should only take a few seconds and could be done, for example, just before the cash registers open.
It's no surprise that the auvisus founders came up with the idea for visionchekout while waiting in line at their university canteen: people wait over 165 million hours in Europe every year to pay for their lunch. Such systems can significantly reduce waiting times. Will this model already be the standard in canteens and cafeterias in a few years? That remains to be seen. Because projects from the retail sector show: With AI, even more is possible – the complete elimination of stationary checkouts.
Are autonomous stores the future?
More and more autonomous supermarkets are opening around the world, known internationally by the term "Just Walk Out". This term was coined by Amazon. In 2018, the online giant opened its first store with "Just Walk Out" technology in Seattle.
"Just Walk Out" refers to an automated supermarket shopping experience where customers can pick products off the shelves and leave the store without having to pay at a checkout. The technology uses advanced sensors, cameras and product tracking algorithms to recognize shopping carts items and settle them online.
In Germany, most supermarket chains are still in the test phase for cashierless stores. A pioneer here: REWE. After two hybrid test stores in Cologne and Berlin and the first checkout-less test store in Munich, the fourth REWE Pick&Go test store opened in Cologne in March 2023: a hybrid supermarket that, at 600 square meters, is the largest in Germany. Here, customers can opt for the classic payment method at the checkout or for an autonomous checkout.
If the customer chooses the latter, he or she registers at the store's entrance barrier using REWE's Pick&Go app. Now they can take all the products they want from the shelves, pack them up - and simply leave the store at the end. Billing is completely automatic via the app. At the heart of the REWE Pick&Go system are intelligent cameras and weight sensors in the shelves, as well as other high-tech components such as servers, switches and high-speed network cables. The system records the anatomical characteristics of every person in the store and assigns each one a number. Biometric data is not stored. Every arm movement when reaching for the shelf is recognized and evaluated as an action: Does she reach for another apple? Does he put his yogurt back?
REWE is working with Trigo Vision Ltd. on these pilot projects. The Israel-based company specializes in computer vision technology and, in addition to REWE, is also designing the pilot projects of grocery store giants such as Netto in Munich and Tesco in London.
The supermarket brands mentioned above see the "Just Walk Out" principle as a milestone on the way to the shopping world of tomorrow. But will self-service or autonomous shopping really become established across the board in the coming years? Who dares to say? Because if there's one thing you can rely on in the customer journey, it's constant change.