What airline self-check-in can teach retailers

Discussion
May 03, 2016

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.

In 2004, more than 80 percent of airline passengers walked up to the ticket counter and talked to an actual human being before boarding a plane. Today, only about 20 percent of passengers are checked-in by a human agent.

In similar fashion, mobile and self-checkout not only promise to dramatically cut labor costs for retailers, but wait times for customers. What lessons can be gleaned from the airlines industry’s rapid adoption of self-check-in as retailers usher in a new era of self-checkout?

Experiment and test, but recognize automation integration won’t be easy and will likely take years to scale. Continental Airlines installed the first self-service check-in option in 1995 and took until 2003 to bring self-check-in to all its airport terminals.

Automation can support loyalty. Retailers may be able to tap “switching costs” in privileges and perks for loyal consumers, such as express or mobile checkout, as airlines have done with boarding and booking privileges.

Automation isn’t incompatible with high customer service rankings. Alaska Airlines, the first airline to establish web check-in back in 1999, has been ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the traditional carrier segment for eight years in a row.

Automation does not eliminate the need for human-driven interactions. Despite self-check-in dominating, roving agents in airports still help customers use self-service kiosks. A few consumer segments will be slow to change and uncomfortable with a purely automated process. Retail customers will revolt over a total mobile checkout.

Consumers perceive humans as more empathetic, but not more responsive. A 2013 study found that human agents at airports ranked higher for such things as reliability, assurance and empathy but found no significant difference between human agents and self-service technologies when it came to responsiveness.

Move ahead with other initiatives. Retailers shouldn’t wait until they’ve reached 100 percent adoption rates with mobile and self-checkout before experimenting with other automation strategies. Despite an estimated 20 percent of airline travelers still uncomfortable with self-check-in, the airline industry continues to experiment with automation in other areas, including self-service baggage kiosks.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
What lessons does self-check-in at airports offer retailers around mobile and self-checkout? Where do you see retailers falling short or missing opportunities as mobile pay and other self-checkout technologies take hold?

Braintrust
"Airline tickets and retail such as supermarkets are not a direct correlation."
"The biggest concern for retailers from both BOPIS and self-checkout is the lack of upsells."
"Broadly here, we can learn from how consumers transitioned from exclusive face-to-face interactions at ticket counters to living in kioskville."

Join the Discussion!

30 Comments on "What airline self-check-in can teach retailers"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Retail checkout and airline check-in are not the same, and while there may be room to partially automate retail checkout, the human touch will not go away. Retailers can make it easier for consumers to scan their purchases while they shop, pay with their smartphones and link loyalty programs to mobile devices, but the shear number of products in stores, the variety of discounts available and the current fallibility of machines bewilder many consumers. Retailers should test cutting-edge technology. A number of early adopters will gratefully participate, but retailers need to keep an eye on the other 90 percent and not force them into technology before they, and the technology, are ready.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

This is one of the best articles I’ve seen summarizing the salient points and caveats of automation for self-check. A crucial point for retail is: “Automation does not eliminate the need for human-driven interactions.”

There is one key enabler not mentioned in this summary. Smartphone adoption. The purchase process actually starts online, and then it enables the customer to check in and select seats BEFORE they ever get to the airport. Their smartphone has become the automated check-in which creates real value by enabling access and interaction any time and everywhere.

Automated self-check-in retailers are much more complex, especially in grocery stores with purchases involving a lot of items. There are issues with bar codes scanning accurately, and no time savings for the consumer.

Breakthroughs with automation come when there is real valve received by the customer. A real breakthrough emerging for automated check-out with groceries is “click-and-collect” … order online and pickup at store … or better yet, deliver-to-door.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

As a developer of interactive kiosk hardware and software solutions for more years than I want to say, it’s no surprise that I believe in these types of technologies. However, airline tickets and retail such as supermarkets are not a direct correlation. In most instances airport check-in is a straightforward process. Check-out (short of automated RFID basket scans) is more involved and there are are more bottlenecks and discrepancies. Where stores hand mark-down inventory and there are coupon restrictions, etc., there are even more potential complications. Historically, a number of supermarkets that jumped into self-checkout later pulled them.

So retailers that want to have an effective mobile and self-checkout option will do best to eliminate the issues that pricing, discounting and inventory outliers create, which are trouble-spots for other reasons too. Easier said than done.

Ross Ely
BrainTrust

The early results for self-checkout and mobile payments in retail grocery are very mixed. Several high-profile retailers such as Albertsons have experimented with self-checkout but discontinued it in favor of a staffed checkstand. Mobile payments are enabled at several retailers, but shoppers have yet to adopt mobile payments in a meaningful way.

Compared to airlines, supermarkets have a much more complex payment transaction including the risk of shrink. Supermarkets also cater to a wider breadth of population compared to airlines, which mainly serve the more affluent, technologically-savvy consumers. Self-checkout and mobile payments will eventually play a key role in grocery, but it will take years of experimentation and learning to find models that work for most shoppers.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Let’s remember, airlines have already sold the ticket. There is no price discrepency, no security tag to remove, no switched tags. The biggest concern for retailers from both BOPIS and self-checkout is the lack of upsells. Any retailer knows the profit is in the second item — a well-trained employee, a well-designed POP or smart display at the counter can make all the difference.

Self checkout has been touted as the “next big thing” for years as grocery stores have rolled them out, then pulled them out.

Try everything but remember, we still crave human-to-human contact.

Those who crave human-to-machine contact won’t be in a brick-and-mortar store, those who don’t will expect better.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust
The key to airline use is the simplicity and resulting time savings. Only a handful of screens need to be negotiated to check in, check bags, change seats, print boarding passes, etc. Contrast this to grocery self-checkout. In self-checkout the customer still needs to scan items and place them into bags. There is not much in the way of time savings, although customers perceive self-checkout as faster. The customer’s primary benefit is control of the process to an extent, until they don’t do something the system wants them to do, like immediately bag their grocery item. The supermarket equivalent of the airlines system could be realized via mobile systems which allow the customer to scan the product at the shelf and place it into a bag in their shopping cart. This would be seamless in that the customer does not need to put the item in their cart, take it out to place on a conveyor or self-checkout platform, and then bag and return it to the cart. Of course, checks and balances need to be built into the system and shopping carts may need to be redesigned to accommodate bagging en-route. However, if done properly, supermarkets could borrow one… Read more »
Joan Treistman
BrainTrust
Airlines are open to adopting best practices from other industries. The maintenance teams at airlines learned to improve efficiency by observing how wheel changes, for instance, are done in split seconds for race cars. Retailers need to examine how customers experience mobile and self-checkouts in other venues. I’ve seen an awful attempt at self-checkout at an airport restaurant. Patrons, not just me alone, were confused and irritated when they couldn’t finalize their transaction. I actually decided to leave before ordering so I wouldn’t go through the same awful procedure. It was awkward, incomprehensible and particularly at an airport consuming time that was precious. If airlines have seen representatives at kiosks help smooth the way for travelers, then retailers can learn to do something similar. Oftentimes it seems that grocery customers are left to fend for themselves. Instead retailers can provide real people and great instructions/signs to facilitate the learning period for those who don’t find self-guided digital solutions intuitive. It may take several months to insure most, if not all, shoppers have learned how to navigate through new solutions. I’m contrasting this to the approach of having to flag down a person to help while groceries are sitting at the… Read more »
Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

OK so it’s an apples and oranges comparison, but broadly we can learn from how consumers transitioned from exclusive face-to-face interactions at ticket counters to living in kioskville. But retailers would have to understand the primary motivator for airlines was to boost productivity and drive efficiencies and not to shift the “work” from airline to consumer (the kiosk still does the work, save attaching the baggage tags).

Mobile and self-checkouts need to be completely re-imagined. Why do I need to wait until the very end of my shopping trip to unload and reload all that I’ve loaded in my shopping cart? Turn the carts into smart devices and run the item-level “scanning” (and un-scanning) in real-time. Make checkout a differentiated, efficient and even PLEASANT experience! Unleash your store personnel and redefine their work content to be more value-adding for shoppers.

The important point here is not to simply replicate an existing process but to re-imagine the possibilities and extend our potential horizons.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is purely anecdotal, but what I see is that customers prefer self check-out to human check-out. I have written many times that when I am in a retail outlet with both, that I see customers wait to use self check-out even when there is no line at a conventional check-out. This was repeated at yesterday’s drop-in at Home Depot. In Baltimore, I noted a CVS with no human check-out. It didn’t seem to bother anyone. Recently at a Stop & Shop, with a pretty full grocery cart, my wife chose the self check-out over the human.

There is a lot of talk about the need for human interaction, but my observation is just the opposite. I think people want to avoid it when their objective is to just shop.

J. Peter Deeb
BrainTrust

Purchases with a small number of items are still the best opportunity for retailers but until technology that allows scan and bag, scans for switched tags, recommends up-sells or compatible items, etc. arrives, there is still a need for human interaction. The complexities are even more apparent in grocery where self check-out is still a small portion of the dollars!
Mobile pay is growing but retail is much more complicated than checking in and selecting a seat.

David Livingston
Guest
1 year 1 month ago

The check-in process is the easiest part. Having duel screens with your favorite airlines or travel website up while shopping for a ticket is time consuming. Choosing seats, paying with your credit card, checking all the “No I don’t want insurance” and “I’m not taking a can of gasoline on the plane” buttons. Refundable or non-refundable. Extra miles for extra money. Then comes the car rental and hotel. I used the same companies for the loyalty perks and cost rarely is a factor. Going grocery shopping is a picnic compared to this. TSA is now easy with a Global Entry card. Without it you could be waiting 45 minutes to get through security. Maybe airlines could learn some lessons from grocers on how to make flying easier.

Gary Loehr
Guest
Gary Loehr
1 year 1 month ago

The airlines are hardly an industry that I would try to emulate. People use self check-in because the human process is so terrible. I use self checkout at Walmart, but not at Wegmans. Enough said.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

As a rule, we should not be too proud to look outside our industry to find best practices of all kinds. Self-service is a great example. I think many of the processes airlines AND hospitality do are completely transferable to retail. Along similar lines, airlines and hospitality have always done the best job on loyalty, in general. You only fly one airline and stay at your favorite hotel chain, right? Why can’t retail do a better job of the same thing?

Gajendra Ratnavel
BrainTrust

Airline check-in is far more simple than retail checkout. There is a limited set of variables and inputs to the airline checking system. Airline number, destination, name, passport. The input is a passport and, on exit, the disembarkation card.

For retail there are tens of thousands of products, loyalty programs and many, many ways to pay. While the idea can be applied to retail, just using the same self-serve kiosk is probably not the best.

The idea of using RFID and mobile devices or smart-carts may be a better idea and works well with the experience of shoppers.

Jonathan Marek
Guest

These are very good lessons — well thought through. Retailers also need to think about how their situation differs as carts full of goods are very different from an airline check-in where fewer physical items are involved. And since this isn’t the ’90s or ’00s, mobile solutions already in people’s pockets need to be primary not secondary.

But the one thing I hope they learn is just how annoying it is to turn what could be one screen and one click into three so they can try to up-sell me!

gordon arnold
Guest

As always software is the key to electronic success and the money needed to generate an acceptable product that is compatible with a large majority of POS and accounting software is staggering. This is only one of the key issues which has thus far relegated this to not much more than the dream of a perfect world. There is also the desire for many small businesses to seek and prefer cash transactions for many plus-side reasons. And then there are the businesses which add value to product with many different and/or custom services. Electronic cashiers are not even enough for the e-commerce business. This is an idea where the costs and practicality are still not in unison with mainstream retail needs. So why not just continue making a dollar or two and wait until they are?

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
1 year 1 month ago

It seems that most of the panelists discussed the lessons to be learned between airports and grocery stores. What about other retailers? Don’t s’pose it would work at department stores? or, wait a minute, Walmart is a department store, for example, and it has self checkout, so maybe I’m wrong.

The falling short mostly happens in customer relations/contacts, and helping those that have questions with the automated procedures. And impulse buys.

I am totally smitten with Mohamed Amer’s thoughts — “Turn the carts into smart devices and run the item-level “scanning” (and un-scanning) in real-time” — and especially his creative, forward-looking comment: “The important point here is not to simply replicate an existing process but to re-imagine the possibilities and extend our potential horizons.”

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
1 year 1 month ago

I don’t think airline self check-in and retail self checkout have a lot of commonality except that the “customer” does the work instead of the employee. Looking for lessons learned that could transfer to retail is probably not worth the effort.

Tom Redd
Guest

Back in 1984 I was sent to a ski joint to cut the code required to print ski passes. Before that I had just finished the self-serve luggage tag apps for American Airlines. Check in was next. American rolled with that in the early ’90s on a test basis.

We learned a lot from the NCR 1810 — the first self-service retail device. I loved that big old machine, but shoppers are looking for more active, service-oriented humans in retail stores. For endless aisle situations it is still nicer to have a human help you order a size or color that is not in the store vs. a PC in a box.

People with people will always be the #1 way to serve shoppers in the merchandise space.

Trust me, I know the self-serve model.

Note: The NCR 1810 was the first terminal to handle self-check-in by airlines (just no PR and was in limited airports — around 1000 NCR 1810s were installed. The NCR 1810 was also the first self service terminal to issue luggage stickers at hotels — Hyatt and Hilton back in the late ’80s. That app was a pain to write — but I was stuck in Hawaii writing the code … nice!

 

Vahe Katros
BrainTrust

Self-check really resonates with business travelers who are low maintenance. So I would look for analogous shoppers, your experts, and try to streamline everything you can and be the airline, um, retailer of choice for this type of shopper. The other answers are right-on so here’s something out of scope that just came to mind.

Analogous thinking is a great tool to identify strategic options. When a customer engages an airline, they would appreciate not just hassle reduction from portal-to-portal, they’d like to have a great and memorable trip. They’d like to know about last minute deals to their favorite destination (chilean sea bass?).

In the food business, your customers are planning trips to destinations like better health, new lifestyles and looking good for the beach. The may be planning their trips with kids or other people, yet we ask them every time to build their own plane, fly alone, and be their own pilot.

I know this is pie-in-the sky thinking (ugh), but consider it food for thought.

PS: It may have taken Continental from 1995 to 2003, but we now live in an era where everyone carries a supercomputer (smartphone) connected to a high speed network.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I applaud Lee for not offering up the simplistic — and incorrect — conclusion that it means “you can get rid of everybody.” And I think the points he’s made are worth noting. That having been said, there’s one major point of differentiation not mentioned: you can’t steal anything when you check in at the airport. Staffed checkout in retail often serves the purpose of minimizing shrink. And, of course, airlines have peculiar staffing needs compared to most retail — periodic rushes, followed by long periods of inactivity (except, of course, at major airports which are always busy). Most retailers have a more even traffic flow, and if that is served by just one person, it may be impossible to go below that.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Let’s leave the grocery business out of the conversation for now because customers seem to enjoy the interaction with the cashier more than a checkout counter. Maybe that is why this has failed in this business silo.

On the other hand, there seems to be no loyalty with the retail clerk because he or she has been so poorly trained. Customer service is a weak skill set in the retail market place. But there is one huge difference between retail and the airline industry. In the airline industry you are boarding a plane; not walking out with a product that has a security alert attached. This security piece needs to be removed by a clerk. How does this happen without the human interaction? It does not. You have an airline boarding pass and you get on the plane. Simple process. Retail has too many variables needing to be worked through.

It will take many years to be a live procedure, mainly because retail will be slow to make the financial commitment necessary for the job.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

There are definite differences between airline check in and retail checkout. The first is that is always a second level of checking required via the TSA agents. This second set of eyes, etc., adds a layer of security the customer has gone through the process. Self-checkouts usually are staffed, but with one person for several registers.

As noted some of us prefer self-checking out and in to getting in a line and waiting to interact with an employee. In both cases this usually happens when the process is more complicated than it is for others, like having items we don’t know how to ring out or flight changes, etc.

This means if you go to self-check, you should be aware that your customer service staff will likely be handling larger and more complex orders. While this should not be an issue for a well-trained person to handle, the human interaction portion requires more understanding and diplomacy. The person who required all that assistance may have others behind them that do not.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Automation still requires human interaction. I think one of the practices in self check in used by airlines that retailers should emulate is to put the human being in front of self checkout, not after it. I understand why retailers do it for loss prevention purposes, but having add+ human assistance available and answer questions proactively helps improve customer satisfaction rather than having to get the attention of the cashier 6 feet away behind a counter.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The airlines did it right. They trained the passenger (their customer) to use their system. They had incentives in the form of bonus miles and a minor savings to book online versus through what used to be the traditional reservations center. Eventually there was a tipping point where the masses were using the airlines’ self-service solutions. The lesson: train your customers and give incentive to try something new.

Kevin Kearns
Guest
Kevin Kearns
1 year 1 month ago

As many have pointed out, this is an apple to oranges comparison; ultimately, technology can enhance the customer experience (in regards to self-check-in at the airports), however it doesn’t replace human interaction and face-to-face engagement, which is essential in traditional retail scenarios.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

If you ask my opinion, and you did, this is apples and oranges. Check in is a necessary step that airlines require to know who is actually going to be on board and what/how many seats are taken/available. Providing the traveler with an easy way to do this themselves, without having to stand in long lines, was a blessing. Plain and simple.

The moving parts at check in are few. Nothing to scan, no coupons, no cash back. No scale that could be broken. You get the point. It was just a service, plain and simple.

The more retailers keep their eye on the actual service they are providing and why … the better.

For my 2 cents.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Ease of use is the lesson to learn here. Travelers are interested in using apps on their mobile devices, in this case for self-check-in, to make their travel journey easier. Airports, airlines and airport based retailers that offer ease of use through mobile apps and mobile pay will attract these travelers.

For a look at the future, at the recent eMerge Americas Technology Conference in Florida, I learned about the new MIAMobleApp for use at Miami International Airport. Miami International is the first airport in the world to have an open deployment of beacons, to transmit information to travelers and help them find their way around the airport.

MIAMobileApp users can easily scan their boarding pass to get real time flight information and updates. They can navigate the airport with visual directions to shopping and dining, including walk times to each destination. Users can create a personal profile with favorite restaurants and stores and airport based retailers can broadcast useful content and eventually will be able to send push notifications on special offers, to travelers who favor them.

Mobile apps and mobile pay are good for airport based retailers. Adding beacon technology will be great.

William Hogben
BrainTrust

As a developer of mobile self checkout solutions for the grocery and convenience segments, I can say that this article is spot on. It’s high past time that retailers adapted to the changing expectations around convenience. There are, however, a few key notes.

First, nobody should expect automation to take years to scale. The cited example of Continental airlines taking 8 years to scale comes from 1993, and technology has come a long way since then. If your automation project takes more than two years to build and a year to refine then you’re doing it wrong.

Second, kiosks are no longer necessary — we should be taking our cues from airlines’ adoption of mobile apps and boarding passes instead. The kiosk was predicated on the old model of the merchant providing the hardware. Now our customers carry the hardware with them, and that is this decade’s retail opportunity.

Karl Haller
Guest

I’m glad I read thru the comments before posting. So many people have already commented on (1) the opportunities for retailers to learn from other industries, and (2) the myriad of differences that exist in a store checkout environment that make checkout so much not complex than check-in.

One thing I would add is that in grocery (and selectively in other retail formats), there are still a lot of items that are not scanned / scannable — produce and bulk foods still largely rely on a scale + 4-digit codes. Even if you can get self-checkout to work for center core items, it’s a long time until it works throughout the store.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Airline tickets and retail such as supermarkets are not a direct correlation."
"The biggest concern for retailers from both BOPIS and self-checkout is the lack of upsells."
"Broadly here, we can learn from how consumers transitioned from exclusive face-to-face interactions at ticket counters to living in kioskville."

Take Our Instant Poll

What’s the likelihood that mobile or self-checkout will support the majority of purchases at brick & mortar retail over the next five to ten years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...