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Opinion: Should the checkout be in the sandwich aisle asks Martin Smethurst

Let’s face it: handing over hard-earned cash is rarely the highlight of a shopping experience, particularly if you have to queue for the privilege.

However great the range of products, the lighting in the changing rooms, or the experience of finding a bargain, the point of payment is the necessary evil of an otherwise pleasurable shopping experience. Shoppers can thoroughly enjoy the process of selecting products but then have to stand in line only to have their money taken from them.

The way consumers shop has undergone seismic changes in the last few years, forcing many retailers to bring technologies in-store designed and built for the consumer market. Until around ten years ago customers would always have to wait in line to pay at a traditional checkout, regardless of the size of their shop or the type of store. A recent survey revealed that 66 per cent of people in the UK now choose self-service at the checkout to make shopping faster and more convenient.

It should not and need not be this way. Technology can change the payment experience. In fact, mobile payment, click and collect, contactless payments and kiosks can ensure that paying becomes an experience in itself.

For today’s retailers, advances in technology bring new opportunities and ways to engage with customers. The new payment can dramatically change the physical environment of the store. Retailers could, in theory, completely reconfigure the physical layout of their stores around the experience rather than just the payment.

For instance, why are checkouts always at the door? Maybe they should be by the sandwich aisle so workers popping in during their lunch hour can pay and leave quickly. The possibilities seem limitless.

A small but important change to the physical store customer experience is contactless payment. Although this is yet to be fully embraced by consumers (officially, according to Gartner’s latest financial services hype cycle, they are climbing the ‘slope of enlightenment’), it marks a significant shift within the retail industry.

It’s already revolutionised other industries, such as transport – think Transport for London’s Oyster cards – as well as the 2012 Olympics when taxi firms made considerable investment in equipping taxis with this facility. It’s a technical investment that could transform the feel of any store.

However, this doesn’t mean that technology is only offering small changes to a store’s physical space. Retailers are fully embracing mobile and online payments, with the option to collect in-store.

A great example of this can be seen at Burberry’s store in London’s Regent Street. The space has been transformed to bring digital and physical together by reproducing the online experience in-store. A huge screen and speakers greet you when you enter the store, and pick up an item of clothing to see the mirror transform in front of you to a screen which displays it on the catwalk, even showing you how each garment was made. Staff use tablets to find the most suitable products for the shopper, and other high street stores, such as Oasis, are following to enhance the physical retail environment. Retailers in the know are embracing technology to dramatically change – and improve – the shopping space and subsequent sales.

Whether it’s at the supermarket or in a clothing shop, these are exciting times for retailers and indicate how technology is having a positive impact on the whole industry. It’s important that retailers embrace the consumer uptake of technology to link up to omni-channel behavioural patterns. The layout of some stores hasn’t changed for years, but retailers can create a more rounded shopping experience, including entrance to the store, payment and exit. This technology could be physically obvious, such as the Burberry store or a new self-checkout, or it could be small but effective, such as contactless payment. Stores have the potential to change the retail environment to accommodate evolving consumer habits, and embrace technology with their customers.

 

Martin Smethurst is managing director of retail at Wincor Nixdorf