2015.01 | mashgin

CaptureA new technology from mashgin promises to simplify the cafeteria line. Clients set their food on a scan table and the system identifies all of the food items with an imaging system, looks them up in a product base, calculates the total and charges the client automatically.

From the video demonstration, mashgin’s simplicity should make it a winner with customers. The concept works fast and simply, as it would need to do in this challenging retail environment. There are a number of factors which will influence this concept’s success as a full blown product.

Price – A POS for this type of environment is relatively inexpensive and can probably be had for $1000 – much less if a simple ECR is used. If this device can be had for that price range it could certainly be a winner. If significantly more expensive, it may be tough to win over cost conscious operators.

One could argue that a cashier could be removed from the equation to drive a huge ROI, but it will require a huge leap of faith for an operator to believe that all clients can be trusted to place all items on the scanner. The fear of shrink will probably mean a longer timeline to remove a cashier.

Another potential selling point is utilizing multiple devices with one cashier overseeing them as is done with self-checkout implementations. This is a more viable argument and potentially a better use of the cashier resources.

Payments – My experience with small transactions is that the longest element is tendering, and not scanning. While that seems counter-intuitive, tendering is never completed with a simple universal system in the real world. People pay with cash, credit, debit, and mobile devices now.

It will be important to incorporate payment into the system in a simple way that keeps flow moving.  The concept solution shown assumes a mobile solution or use of a credit card with an MSR slot.  Apple Pay or NFC cards could work well here. The the MSR card reader slot should be eliminated – that will need to be updated to as EMV is adopted in the US and many international markets.  My personal preference is to use an NFC card for food service payments so I can avoid entering a PIN.  Expect US fast food organizations to embrace NFC, beacons, or other options more fully once PINs become more common and a simple swipe of a credit card is replaced by people having to enter a PIN at POS; slowing the queues.

CaptureCustomer Choice – While the system appears entirely intuitive, there’s always a subset of clients that will struggle or reject self service. Some accommodation will need to be made to serve those that don’t wish to use self service. Some customers consider fast service to be good service, while others prefer the human touch. Ultimately the customer is right. Operators will not want to eliminate any potential revenue sources and will want to support any clients that want to eat.

Fraud / Incorrect Reads – The system will require monitoring to avoid shrink. What if two bars of chocolate are set one on top of the other so that the imager sees only 1 item and charges for one? What if the organic coffee is purchased instead of regular? A cup of coffee looks like a circle of black liquid to the imager – it’s impossible to tell without asking the customer or watching them.

Operations – Even though the system works quickly how the flow works in the restaurant environment will require some significant consideration. How many units should be used? Where should they be placed? How many attendants are needed and how are they best deployed? How are exceptions like a system reading a plate incorrectly or an item missing from the image database? How should the queue be arranged for best use of space and simple flow? What if customers have coupons or vouchers or some other discount?  How are the units updated?  Where does the database reside?  Is it simple for local staff to amend and update the product base?

While its certainty not fair to expect a fully developed system from a concept video, it’s important to think through the entire transaction. This concept has much in common with other self service concepts and the issues above are common to all.  All of the issues above are certainly addressable with some thought and an operator devoted to working through the solution with mashgin. I would happily use this sort of technology and look forward to seeing a fully developed iteration in a cafeteria line in the future!

2009.18 | Startpages | SelfScan | eDeals

Startpages – Want to get all the information you need to do your job and not clog your inbox or spend hours “surfing the interweb”? I encourage everyone I know to take the time to establish a personal start page. You can add RSS feeds of your favourite trade publications, magazines, newspapers, blogs, or even RSS feeds of Google News searches for any topic.

I’ve scooped people many times on important industry information or even news releases from their own company in this way by looking at my screen every morning for five minutes just like anyone else and no additional work. There are many platforms available, but I use Netvibes (it has mobile versions so I can see it anywhere) , but you can also use iGoogle, My Yahoo, and Pageflakes to name a few. I highly recommend it as a productivity gain and a great way to learn about what is going on in the retail industry, and with relevant organizations and solutions.

SelfScan – Being in self service, I sometimes hear questions about scanning your own items as you walk around with the store. Various organizations have tried this idea and variations on it. I haven’t seen it stick anywhere as of yet. Why not?

A recent article decried this solution as being the way of the future – interesting based on the fact that the technology has been around for years and hasn’t caught on with significant installations. From the customer perspective, it looks like a great idea – you’re walking around anyway – why not scan as you go? Here’s a few thoughts:

Inconvenience – how many times do you pick up things and put them back – more than you think – now add scanning and unscanning every time you do it. NOT ideal for most shoppers who are not patient with technology.

Security – How do you verify customers are taking what they scanned? Check them all at the end? How do you de-activate EAS security tags without an attendant or a station? What about people who dishonestly swap barcodes from one item to another?

Technical Issues – If there are issues on the floor, store staff now have to help people all over the floor instead of at the front end of the store.

Weighable Items – Do you trust customers to weigh items on their own? Most people are honest, but some could mis-identify what they weighed to get a cheaper price for what they buy. With no attendant, who would know? With a clerk to validate and check you out, what is the benefit?

Investment – Technology costs have dropped so this has improved, but wear and tear in retail is legendary – particularly in environments like grocery and DIY. Add the uncertain element of customers who will drop or break units, or even steal them, and costs will rise.

Network Security – Retailers are giving customers unencumbered unattended access to a wireless device that is connected to their network. You can encrypt it, but there is a way to break into everything. Nobody wants to be the next TJX.

Customer Time Savings – Many implementations allow you to go to registers at the end anyway. If you only get a few things, scanning time is pretty negligable. Scanning is a relatively small part of any transaction – it’s tendering that takes the time. Using this solution today, time and effort savings are low, and potential errors are high.

I think scan as you go is intriguing and will eventually get to a point where it is practicable, but there is a lot of work to be done on the operational validation. Retail transacations are a complex balance of browsing, selection, scanning, tendering, and security. With so many elements, there are a million ways to fall down, and no retailer wants to do that today.

UPDATE: According to a recent Washington Post article, these units are in use at Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Food Lion, Bloom. Who knew. I’m still against being audited as it goes against the whole time savings.

eDeals – Mobile coupons are growing. Coupon Sherpa, Yowza, and others are embracing the fact that consumers have a device in their pocket that is rapidly replacing their wallet. With the ongoing decline of paper based newspapers, digital natives and smartphone users becoming a greater portion of retailer wallet share, and the trackable nature of electronic media, expect this trend to continue.

I encourage grocery clients to move away from using paper flyers and towards electronic for the same reasons above. With fewer newspapers in business, expect printing costs to rise, and store flyers to become more expensive. Retailers could reduce their flyer print runs, or reduce the page count and encourage clients to move to the electronic version from the paper. Customer reaction to specials and items can be gauged by click-throughs, and retailers can drive a true interractive relationship with their customers.

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