Wal-Mart makes move to speed up checkout process

By RALPH CHAPOCO - Daily News Staff

Feb. 28, 2018

Employee Minnie Banda of Iron Ridge scans an item that was purchased online for a customer to pick up in the store Tuesday morning at Walmart in West Bend. The items are placed in the tower behind Banda and customers are able to enter their order number to have the item dispensed from the tower. A portion of the new technology allows shoppers to scan items as they shop and pay through a mobile app.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. representatives have incorporated technology into the retail experience, hoping to alleviate a concern that many consumers face: spending time waiting to pay.

The technology, named Scan & Go, has been in place for about four weeks, and confers duties to customers that are typically reserved for the employee. Guests can record the items into a system that maintains the items they selected and pay for them at several self-service checkout counters available at the front of the store.

“I surveyed the customers the first weekend,” said Mike Dooley, the store manager for West Bend. “I walked around and talked to the customers who were using the scanners or using the app, asking them how they liked it, and they loved it. They liked the ease of being able to shop and bag as they are going.”

The measure began as company representatives were developing ideas improving the consumer shopping experience.

“From our feedback from our customer surveys, checking out and the time that it takes to check out was probably something that we needed to address as a company,” Dooley said. “There are a lot of different options now for the customer to check out, much quicker, much faster, more efficiently.”

They have since adopted the system at Sam’s Club stores and tested them in retail outlets in larger markets, including some in Texas. Representatives are expanding its use to Wisconsin, where it is available in Appleton and West Bend.

When paying for their items by conventional means, will linger as the cashier scans their items, bags them and relays to them the total price — all before charging their cards or remitting cash.

To address the issue, company executives have implemented self-checkout stands, allowing the customers to scan and pay for their items without the assistance of an employee. The updated process incorporates the scanning process into the shopping experience and segments it from one longer period into a series of shorter time periods.

The process begins as customers enter the store and pick up a mobile scanner. They also have the option of using their mobile devices by downloading the accompanying app. As they are walking through the aisles, customers will scan and bag the items they wish to purchase before continuing with their shopping.

For those without a bar code, such as fruits and vegetables, customers can enter a numerical designation and the weight to enter the item.

When completed, shoppers can walk to a checkout stand and transfer the information stored in the mobile scanning device (or their phones) into the machine and pay for their purchases. Those who use mobile devices may bypass the stands and pay using the app.

Most of the advantage is conferred in the reduced time.

“On average, a customer using the regular manned registers, they handle each product they buy, on average four times,” said Paula Conklin, front end supervisor. “If they use the Scan & Go system, they use it once.”

Assistant Manager Stephanie Hale listed other benefits, especially for those who are on a budget. The reason is that a subtotal is displayed on the scanner that adjusts for each purchase. Customers can view instantly how much they will have to pay for their items.

Then there is the added benefit of interacting with family.

“The mothers just love it,” Hale said. “They can engage their children in their shopping experience. It keeps their child busy.”

The risk is in the independence the store offers the consumers. With the added responsibility, the retailers are trusting the consumer to enter their items into the system accurately. To address that, Scan & Go imposes a random audit for customers.

“In the test stores that have been doing this for a year, they have inventoried and there is no discernable difference between stores before they had the scanners and after they had the scanners,” Dooley said.

In exchange for eliminating longer wait times at the end, customers bear more of the burden of the additional tasks that an employee would perform in the past — leaving many to ponder the fate of those who perform those duties.

“Our biggest question is, ‘how many cashiers have you replaced?’” Conklin said. “Our answer is that we have replaced no people. We are still hiring people. We need as many cashiers as we did before because there is a lot of explaining, there is a lot of helping. It is a different type of helping our customers.”