Walmart associates check out customers on the floor in pilot program

Discussion
Source: Walmart
May 08, 2018
George Anderson

Walmart is testing a program, “Check Out With Me,” that enables associates to check out customers in the lawn & garden sections at more than 350 U.S. stores.

Outfitted with cellular devices and Bluetooth printers, associates can ring up customers and provide a receipt on the spot. Walmart associates scan customers’ items with the Check Out With Me mobile device, swipe their credit cards and provide them with receipts — printed and electronic options are available.

Walmart writes on its blog, “Customers no longer need to venture inside the physical store to pay for items like mulch, soil and flowers, saving them valuable time.”

Apple, Nordstrom and Victoria‘s Secret are among the few retailers that enable associates to check out shoppers on the floor with tablets or modified iPod Touch devices. Associates can take advantage of the mobile-pay engagements for deeper customer service involvement, such as offering product advice and upselling.

The bigger trend lately, however, has been around consumer-enabled mobile checkout. Walmart, Macy’s, Kroger and Meijer have all rolled out programs that let shoppers scan items and then pay. In some cases, shoppers head to a self-checkout with their list of scanned items, but in others they pay through the app and only have to verify their purchase. Amazon Go has earned the most attention for its scan and “just walk out” technology.

A survey of just over 1,000 U.S. consumers sponsored by Adyen, the payments platform, identified a group of early-tech adopters, Spendsetters, that are more open to a wide variety of payment options.

With 52 percent of the group representing Millennials, the findings on Spendsetters included:

  • Eighty percent are comfortable using digital wallets;
  • Seventy-five percent would shop more in-store with a “just walk out” payment experience;
  • Fifty-nine percent want to use a store-branded app to pay onsite;
  • Seventy-four percent are considering cashless stores that only accept cards and digital payment;
  • Eighty-six percent have left a store due to long lines.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Walmart’s “Check Out With Me” program? Which method should retailers focus on more in the next couple of years: associate-enabled, on-floor checkout or shopper-enabled mobile checkout?

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"The elusive goal should be the elimination of the checkout lines."
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33 Comments on "Walmart associates check out customers on the floor in pilot program"


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Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

This is an overdue move by Walmart (some of its competitors are already there), and it frankly has other applications in the store — provided that loss prevention is factored into the strategy. I’m surprised that many other retailers haven’t followed the lead of Apple and Nordstrom Rack here — “go where the customer is.”

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

I’m curious about the Walmart insights that drive this one. I understand it for Macy’s and Kroger from a convenience perspective, and I think that at both of those chains it can be experiential and rewarding for the convenience.

Is Walmart after the same thing? If my average shopping basket is $200, how convenient is it to get checked out in an aisle? I think I’d rather have someone bring my $200 of groceries to my car for me.

Having said that, I’m applauding the pursuit of using data and analytics to create experiential moments. As retailers head down this path, it’ll be nothing but upside for consumers.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Since check-out friction is a key cause for non-conversion, I think this is a smart move by Walmart. Too often retailers misguidedly create barriers when it comes to transaction processing instead of eliminating them, and programs like “Check Out with Me” could not only reduce check-out friction, but enhance the customer experience at the same time. While there’s merit to many of the check-out systems available, for most retailers I believe that the associated-enabled solutions present the most practical alternatives.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I like the Walmart’ “Check Out With Me Program” because it gives the customer a chance to interact with a store associate and that is more beneficial than the customer doing everything themselves with a self-serve system. If done well, in the same time a customer can use a self-checkout app or register; the associate can interact with the customer, engage in a conversation, make sure there isn’t something else the customer may need or answer a question they may have. One main benefit stores still have is the opportunity to interact with a human being, so finding methods to let that happen while still keeping up with the technological advantages of today is smart and that is Walmart is doing.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

On-floor and shopper-enabled mobile checkouts give consumers exactly what research shows they want in a shopping experience: convenience and speed. Without these two factors, all the rest of the “wants” fade away. Retailers need to move quickly to enable checkouts that shoppers will rave about!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

The most dramatic statistic is the 82% that left a store because of long lines. As to methods of checking out, there are product categories, such as lawn and garden, for which assisted, associate-enable checkout is more appropriate. It allows the associate to explain products and options and check out the customer the minute the customer is ready and possibly provide help with carrying or loading product onto a cart. For many other categories, self check is best because the products don’t need explanation, special packaging or assistance with conveyance.

Walmart has probably already looked at the dynamics in the lawn-and-garden department and accurately determined that a different type of mobile checkout was appropriate for the category.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

One of the most significant friction points in any shopping experience, especially in the big box stores, is the checkout process. By “democratizing” the checkout process, Walmart and other retailers not only help to mitigate this friction, but also enable their Sales Associates to walk the floors, get out from behind the register, engage with their customers, and provide a far improved overall customer experience.

This is a significant step for a retailer the size of Walmart, as they move to a more customer-centric experience model. Line busting is the main goal, however, the secondary benefits of this model are enabling the sales associates to evolve into more of a brand ambassadorial model, where they can engage, guide, support the customer, and ultimately send them on their way with the mobile checkout capabilities.

All of this will ultimately lead to increased conversions, perhaps more units per transaction, even an increase in the average order value, as the sales associates could potentially upsell to the Walmart customers.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Who would have thought just 2 years ago that Walmart would be joining the like of Apple with associate enabled checkout? Kudos to Walmart for now leading bricks and mortar transformation. From a customer point of view, what’s not to like about checkout in the aisle, especially in the home and garden area? It is not a question of which method is better. Customers want choice and convenience. And above all else, they want to avoid wasting time in checkout lines. With Walmart implementing options of both associate-enabled and self-checkout, it is a clear signal to the rest of retail that stores will now need to meet new levels of customer service expectations.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Great move for increasing Walmart’s brand intimacy! It is a brilliant example, of getting associates more engaged with the sales process, where they have an opportunity to upsell, and add-on sales … instead of just process customers at a checkout line. Plus it gets rid of the line-up altogether.

Where Amazon’s store seems to be focused on eliminating the checkout line … by eliminating people and process, Walmart is focusing on eliminating the checkout line by USING more people. People contact, helpful advice, and recommendations will help Walmart get closer to customers … and that is a brilliant step forward.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

The selected technology is less important than the results. The ability to check out quickly & conveniently, allows for the realization of the ideal shopping paradigm: “The longer you keep customers in the store the more they buy and the quicker & easier you check them out, the quicker they return.”

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

I like new checkout options in megastore environments in particular because they have the potential to provide a small-shop experience. Moving the check-out clerk onto the floor offers the friendly point of interaction that can enable cross-sell and upselling.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

The elusive goal should be the elimination of the checkout lines. My biggest take-away from the numbers is the nearly 9 out of 10 people that have left a store due to long lines.

Retailers work hard to create a shopping experience, stock their shelves, and welcome shoppers through their doors. Once in the store, retailers should be focused on ensuring their customers never walk out empty-handed.

So, any effort to tackle the checkout process is welcomed, and Walmart as a company has several checkout offers in play across their namesake stores and Sam’s Club. There is no doubt that product variety and customer purchase quantities create particular challenges very different from say, Amazon Go stores. So, I expect multiple approaches to “live together” even beyond any temporary pilot periods. The nature of the products and customer purchase behavior will determine the future of the check out register — but in the ideal future, it doesn’t exist and store personnel shift their work to higher value activities.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

The first thing that struck me about Walmart’s application for the program is the department chosen — Lawn and Garden. This is an area with big bulky items, often merchandised outdoors and loaded directly into trunks or truck beds, and one that is often devoid of checkouts. Walmart solves all those problems by having the associates in the department check you out. No need to set up a separate checkout. No need to lock an associate to that checkout when there are no customers present. And no waiting for someone to finally get there or, worse yet, having to wheel your flatbed of mulch into the store to check out. The home run here is the matching the application to the location and customer need.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Lowe’s could learn from this!

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Sharp observation, Ben. I’m sure the choice of visuals in the short video was no accident. It makes sense to consider the value of on-the-floor checkout for specific types of shopping missions.

Could be awkward for a basket piled high with groceries — the rubber belt and POS scanner is still probably the most efficient way to scan and pay for dozens of items at a time.

Yet mobile checkout could be a lifesaver for a half-dozen sacks of garden soil that the associate also helps load into the family SUV.

Here again, I’d urge observers to consider that in-store innovations will displace some existing service processes where they add value. However, they will not entirely replace those processes.

This is one more signal of what I’d describe as the “de-massification” of retailing.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

All check out methods work. The key to success: match the checkout method to the product. Walmart may be late to the game with thousands of physical stores and tens of thousands of employees to lift to the new ways of doing things. “Check Out With Me” associate-enabled sounds great for lawn and garden. Clothing “shopper enabled” and groceries — a wild card. Think of the frustration of 40 grocery items and the scanner stalls out. Good for Walmart.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

For years Walmart has faced complaints about slow checkout, so any program that speeds up the process is welcome. Retailers should test multiple checkout concepts and use the one(s) that gain the best traction with consumers, while insuring that all items are paid for.

Gabriela Baiter
BrainTrust
This is an interesting one. I applaud Walmart for innovating their check out experience, but why not also test this out in different areas of the store? With the size of their footprint and larger product inventory, there is an additional pain point of people who wind up dragging large items across the store to later change their mind. If Walmart removes the inventory and turns these sections into showrooms, these spaces can be dedicated to experience and trial. Associates can use “Check out with me” to reserve the items that people want to buy and place them in their car when they drive up to the back. As far as associate vs. shopper enabled check out — I am all for having the customer do the least work while they are shopping. Until other retailers can duplicate Amazon’s “Just walk out” technology, human touch is a huge benefit to improving the customer experience inside these retailers while making life easier for them. While check out is a first step, I hope to see Walmart… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

This isn’t exactly revolutionary. Nordstrom Rack associates routinely check customers out and Home Depot runs a separate POS system in its Garden Centers to keep those 50 pound bags of fertilizer out of the aisles. As to which system is best, I think it all comes down to the specific operation and customer base. I’m not sure either system represents an automatic magic wand, at least at this point.

Rich Kizer
Guest

Great idea for Walmart. I agree with all the comments made so far. Here is the lynchpin: In order for the program to work, these “Check Out With Me” associates must be prevalent in the shoppers eyesight. Many customers complain that in these big boxes, there are only two people present; the greeter (most of the time) and a cashier.

I believe customers will welcome this time saving opportunity … but Walmart better do an excellent job in staff presence along the customer’s shopping paths. Otherwise it’s back to the lines. In stores where customer interaction is tantamount to the relationship, and making the sale, the focus must be on associate-enabled. In situations where the customer knows their way around, and can easily find what they need, any one of the programs will work.

Brittain Ladd
Guest

Amazon has a team in place that has been working on technology to duplicate the Amazon Go experience in stores the size of a Walmart Super Center. It is estimated the technology will be fully capable by 2019 to 2020 at the latest. A company called Everseen is working on similar technology.

Amazon is expanding the capability of their voice activated Alexa software to provide self-checkout simply by scanning a product using your phone. Alexa is also being integrated with media capability.

Instead of working on solutions to make the check out process easier, I strongly recommend that retailers work on eliminating the check out process altogether … just like Amazon is doing.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

It is surprising that Walmart has taken so long to experiment in this area. Consumers shopping in only the home and garden area will be pleased. Customers who have items from other sections of the store will be frustrated if not allowed to check out with an associate if they’re finishing their shopping in home and garden. Each system has value. Which works best for Walmart consumers will take more experimentation, so Walmart needs to keep testing.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

This makes sense, especially in the lawn and garden department. It doesn’t make as much sense for the shopper who’s navigating aisles and filling up a cart. That said, all floor associates should be able to checkout customers. It could help reduce lines for traditional checkout. Overall, it’s a better customer experience.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust
Lawn and garden seems like a sensible area to have such an initiative, compared to say general groceries where it feels like either going to the till or using a self-scan service is the better option. It should hopefully streamline things for customers, and enable staff to keep helping someone for their entire journey rather than giving them advice or finding the products they want and then having to send them off to stand in a queue. Now one assistant could do it all. Of course the other interesting thing about this is that Walmart itself says that customers no longer have to go into the store to pay. There is a question about whether this may reduce the value of some sales as customers who had to go into the store may have bought other items on a whim. Perhaps Walmart has done the sums though and seen this doesn’t really apply to lawn and garden. I think in the future we’re going to see a mix of different payment services and there’s a… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Smart. In all the studies we’ve done, checking out of big box (and grocery) stores is a major pain point for consumers, especially since the ease of online check out — e.g. One Click — has changed the game. Anything a retailer can do to speed that process up or make it easier is going to help the infamous last impression of that experience.

PS: Food service progressives like Starbucks and Chipotle figured this out long ago with something they call “line busting.” Retailers have been slow to adapt, but maybe not anymore, thanks to Walmart.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

This seems simple enough that it would have been thought of years ago. What took so long? Could it have been those full carts abandoned in the aisles near the registers because the lines were too long and no one called for help? A couple of those could have been ones I abandoned for that reason. Those are things making one not want to return. But a program like this will go a long way to remedy the problem and get foot traffic in the stores.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I’m a fan of offering options for checkout (although I’m not expecting that Amazon Go is the right answer). It will be interesting to hear what Walmart learns. It sounds like they believe the Lawn and Garden center has shopping which matches with the roving checkout approach.

I could also see the roving checkout help bring real value for those people shopping for just one or two big items — helping them avoid long lines at the checkout counter.

That said, the research cited here looks very wrong. My guess would be either they found a highly savvy naturally digital audience or those answering didn’t really understand concepts like “digital wallet.” Either way, as one who is responsible for delivering research that matters, it’s incredibly frustrating to see such bad research.

Peter Luff
BrainTrust

I like the approach. Apple has paved the way, so in itself the technology is not new, but it’s good to see it become more mainstream. Key thing will be to give clear signage to extra value items the customers may want to consider before exiting the stores, whilst not appearing like a barrier to exit.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

Retailers have been very slow to adapt to mobile checkout, whether by the associate or self-checkout. Apple has been practicing mobile associate checkout for years with great success, yet few retailers empower their associates to handle payments throughout the store, despite well documented consumer dissatisfaction with long checkout lines.

The data on consumer perceptions, albeit skewed to Millennials, show that consumers have evolved faster than retailers. Comfort with mobile phones for a variety of uses has progressed to where even consumers who are not early adopters show acceptance.

I hope that Walmart will expand this initiative beyond the outdoor section.

Associate-enabled checkout provides customer service and expedited payment — the best of both worlds. That is the model that Apple perfected and the model most retailers should move to as quickly as possible. Those retailers that do so will see the benefit of greater frequency and consumer retention.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

I’ve experienced the mobile checkout at the high-end retailer and when the personnel is well trained, it’s a convenient and appealing payment method for the credit card or debit purchases. When the personnel is not properly trained, it stops being convenient, the checkout process is more laborious, and customers will avoid it.

It is a very good program when done properly, but I anticipate other factors at large box retailers (poor training, inventory control, theft prevention, and cash-only customers who also want the convenience of mobile checkout) that will prevent proper implementation under its current iteration.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Anything Walmart, or any retailer, can do to eliminate friction in the checkout process will be welcomed and embraced by consumers, as long checkout lines are an ongoing frustration for shoppers. The importance of efficient checkout processes is critical, as validated by the consumer survey finding that 86% of consumers have left a store due to long lines.

The “Check Out With Me” program is good option to add to Walmart’s checkout alternative. Each customer has their own preference for how they would like to checkout and it sometimes differs for each individual shopping visit – depending on what they are buying or how many items they have in their basket. Giving customers options of mobile self-checkout, associate mobile checkout, self-checkout terminals, RFID assisted checkout or tradition staffed checkout lines is the ultimate way to satisfy different customer preferences.

Min-Jee Hwang
BrainTrust

Self checkout can be frustrating when it doesn’t work seamlessly (such as an item not scanning or trying to buy an item that requires an associate to assist). Walmart is making the check out process easier on their shoppers, with an added bonus of excellent customer service. I fully believe that the future of retail is human, with a healthy dose of technology to further empower employees to meet shopper needs.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

The move makes sense for me due to its specific application in the outside Home & Garden section. It is indeed a hassle to take these often large and difficult to manage items into the main store and checkout system. By enabling the consumer to transact outside, including car-side as the video demonstrates, enables convenience as well as associate interaction. I do not see this working well inside the main store, but nothing stops Walmart from now testing the technology in various departments.

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Braintrust
"All checkout methods work. The key to success: match the checkout method to the product."
"The elusive goal should be the elimination of the checkout lines."
"Associate-enabled checkout provides customer service and expedited payment — the best of both worlds. "

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