Are Shoppers Really That Resistant to Scanning and Bagging Their Own Goods?

Walmart's Scan & Go has up and left

Author: Krista Garcia

May 16, 2018

Thanks to the hype generated by Amazon Go, retailers across sectors—from supermarkets like Kroger to department stores like Macy’s—have made stabs at cashierless checkout. But is it something consumers want?

Amazon Go got a lot of attention, but it could be downplayed since there was only one small store near the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Could it even scale? That looks like a tentative "yes" as Amazon appears to be expanding the convenience store concept to Chicago and San Francisco.

Walmart's answer, Scan & Go, debuted in August 2017 and worked with in-store devices or an app on a shopper's smartphone. This week, however, it was reported that the retailer had shelved this trial. According to CBC News, after rolling out this service to about 120 US locations over eight months ago, the adoption rates were still low. The goal was to provide convenience, but it appears customers didn’t like scanning and bagging their own items.

There has always been a degree of skepticism about self-checkout, whether because it’s too complicated, shopper preference for human interaction or resistance to the idea of providing free labor and making cashiers obsolete. 

But according to studies, consumers aren't as opposed to self-checkout as they used to be. A January 2018 survey by Field Agent found that 57% of US smartphone users said they "usually" or "always" use self-checkout when grocery shopping. 

It might be tempting to theorize that Walmart shoppers are different from, say, Whole Foods Market shoppers. But when asked how they would react if their primary grocery store switched to only self-checkout, a similar number of respondents said they would defect: 7% of Walmart shoppers vs. 5% of Whole Foods shoppers. For comparison, at least one-quarter of H-E-B and Wegmans customers said they would switch to a grocery store that had traditional checkouts. 

SOTI, a mobile and internet of things (IoT) service provider, surveyed US consumers in December 2017 and discovered that 66% of respondents preferred self-service technology over interacting with a sales associate, with 53% in favor of self-checkout specifically. Additionally, 77% said they would be "very" or "somewhat comfortable" if self-checkout was the only option provided. 

Fewer surveys have been conducted about mobile scanning options. An Acosta study from March 2017 reported 37.9% of US internet users were "interested" or "very interested" in scan-and-go technology. Agreement with this sentiment soared to 76.8% among millennials. 

Another survey from Field Agent, conducted in March 2017 when Walmart was piloting Scan & Go in three stores, found overwhelmingly positive reactions to the new shopping experience: 56% of respondents said it was much easier than conventional Walmart checkout, and 61% said it was much faster. Ultimately, 77% said they would be "very likely" or "completely likely" to use it in the future. Similar to the Acosta study, the largest concentration of Scan & Go users were ages 25 to 34 (39%).  Waiting for staff to confirm purchases and limited payment options were among the dislikes. 

The biggest difference between Amazon Go and most cashierless initiatives is that it is truly seamless and asks little of the shopper. There's no scanning with a device or smartphone, and there's no need to fumble with cash, credit card or even a mobile wallet. 

When compared with Amazon, Walmart looks like it has taken a step backward since the retailer is settling on a middle ground where sales associates can check out customers on mobile devices. This isn't the worst approach—it works for Apple, after all—and according to SOTI, 67% of consumers thought staff using mobile devices would save them time.