During the past 18 months or so, we have observed a decidedly negative attitude towards the future viability of Self-Checkout (SCO) solutions in US retailers. Throughout 2011 and 2012, a number of large grocery chains—including Kroger and Albertsons—announced SCO lanes will be replaced with old-fashioned staffed lanes instead. The retail technology blogosphere has also joined the anti-automation bandwagon, with articles frequently bemoaning the clunky operation of early solutions and their perceived job-killing effect. Despite this anti-SCO sentiment, many store chains across all retail sub-verticals continue to offer SCO as a checkout option. In fact, some merchants are actually increasing SCO investment. This week, NCR announced it will deliver 10,000 additional SCO stations across WalMart’s 1200 US stores during 2013. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but, based on VDC’s most recent AFSP data, we estimate the value of this contract to be approximately $150-160 million.
Notwithstanding its abandonment by certain retailers, SCO remains a useful technology when deployed in appropriate retail settings. Like any other solution, it has certain vertical/sub-vertical applications to which it’s well-suited, and others it’s not. While certain early SCO systems were buggy and difficult to use (we have experienced them ourselves), modern offerings have largely addressed these shortcomings, offer time-strapped shoppers an attractive alternative to waiting in line and often complement other retail solutions such as Personal Shopping Systems. VDC therefore believes SCO will remain an important component of many retailers’ broader front-end technology solutions, particularly in grocery/supermarket, mass merchants, wholesale clubs and home improvement stores.
In regards to WalMart’s upcoming SCO rollout, we expect its investment decision was motivated in part by the retailer’s ongoing experimentation with customer-operated mobile shopping apps. Specifically, WalMart is one of the founding members of the Merchant Customer Exchange (a consortium of more than 20 US merchants working cooperatively to develop an interoperable, cross-brand mobile wallet) and also recently announced small-scale pilots of a smartphone-based self-scanning app. As these two initiatives progress—and if/when they move towards full-scale deployment—we expect self-service technology like SCO will play a key role in their day-to-day use by customers. Convenience and time savings are two of the key value propositions these mobile apps offer, and both are strengthened by the presence of SCO as a checkout option. Accordingly, we expect to see SCO defend its established place within the retail automation spectrum, especially among technology-embracing merchants like WalMart . Furthermore, by virtue of its recognition as a retail sector leader, WalMart could give its SCO-doubting peers reason to reevaluate their own automation strategies.