When shoppers enter a retail store, they are generally free to browse and shop as they wish. They can move around the store, inspect products, engage with staff, perhaps price check items on their phone. This free-flowing, customer-controlled shopping experience stands in stark contrast to the rigid checkout process where customers are funnelled into a specific location so that their items can be tallied before they pay by cash or credit card.
In practical terms, this kind of static payment process can act as a bottleneck, whether from lack of staff or unprepared customers who have to dig around in their wallets for a credit card or cash. Yet retail stores, for the most part, continue to follow a traditional in-store model which no longer matches evolving buyer behaviour. Not to mention that the purchasing bottle-neck takes up valuable time which the customer could spend moving about the store and exploring other products.
The proliferation of internet-connected devices like tablets and smartphones is interrupting this traditional retail model, providing customers with more flexible ways to shop, while offering retailers an inordinate amount of data which can better inform the delivery of products and services.
At Bilue, we take the retail shopping experience very seriously. Our prototyping team has put significant investment into R&D, developing a model that speeds up the bricks-and-mortar experience by removing the checkout bottleneck. Here’s what we came up with:
The Smart Shopping Bag
The Smart Shopping Bag is a personal, mobile point of sale (POS) system which scans items as they are placed into the bag and keeps a running tally as the customer moves around the store.
This prototype pairs with an app on the user's phone, connecting their physical shopping bag to an online cart. Placing an item into your digital cart is as simple as adding it to your physical bag.
Customers download the Smart Shopping Bag application (available on iOS, Android and Windows phones), fill in their registration and then visit the ‘pair shopping bag’ option in the menu screen. Each identified phone will have a shopping bag icon next to it. To pair, they simply select the icon next to their phone’s ID and hit connect. The bag will connect to the app via Bluetooth.
All of the products in-store are fitted with RFiD tags which the app will read and update in the cart when they are placed into the Smart Shopping Bag. Once the customer has completed their shop, they simply unlock their phone, enter the app to see the total, hit the pay button et voila, checkout complete!
Because we can track what a customer has added in real-time, there is no need to interface with the traditional POS system. Decided they no longer want an item? They simply remove it from the Smart Shopping Bag and the app will automatically deduct it from the subtotal.
Once a shopper is done, all they need do is detach the inner bag and walk out of the store.
Where to from here?
While 2015 was a strong year for mobile payment systems with the launch of Apple Pay in Australia, the technology and its implementation is still in its infancy. We have yet to see saturation of these innovations in bricks-and-mortar stores, meaning the next two to three years will likely see a mobile payments gold rush to bring the retail experience into the 21st century.
Apple Pay increases the speed of payment transactions, but still requires users to choose a payment method, authenticate with their fingerprint and place their phone or Apple Watch on the POS terminal. Being a deliberate play in increased security and convenience during payment, it is no surprise that Apple Pay does not yet address the pain point of having to stand in a checkout line.
Smartphones allow retailers – and their customers – to do an awful lot more than they are currently taking advantage of. Customers are literally holding the technology needed to bridge the innovation gap. In order to remove these payment bottlenecks in the shopping experience, it is now up to bricks-and-mortar stores to invest and connect to these devices.
By allowing customers to scan their products as they shop with a one-touch checkout, retail stores get the added efficiencies from a distributed checkout system. This is the beauty of internet connected devices, with every customer carrying a potential POS system with them. When transactions are completed on a mobile phone, it closes the loop between the physical shoppers and your digital customers.
The Smart Shopping Bag is still in prototype stage. However even this proof of concept showcases the technology that can be utilised for enhancing the customer experience in retail stores today.
Rolling out RFiD tags to the products in a retail store opens up a raft of new experiences for businesses and consumers to enjoy. Leveraging these technologies would allow retail environments to be free of traditional payment counters and to focus on crafting the ideal retail experience. Consumers could browse and interact with products they are interested in and simply be charged for whatever they are holding when they leave the store.
Creating a network that can identify a customer and the individual products they are interacting with, without manual input opens up possibilities for the next generation of shopping experiences.
We would love to get your feedback on our first round of prototypes. If you are interested in helping shape the future of retail experiences, contact us and join the conversation.