Walmart’s checkout pilot puts shoppers in the fast lane

Photo: Walmart Canada
Jun 05, 2019
Matthew Stern

Walmart has had a tough time getting customers to adopt scan-and-go technology, despite its success with Sam’s Club shoppers. Now Walmart Canada is piloting a layout that re-brands the technology and reroutes shoppers in a way that could change how customers think about it.

Walmart Canada announced the pilot of a “fast lane” in its new urban supercenter concept in the Toronto Stockyards. Store visitors use scan-and-go technology with their mobile device as they shop. Then at the end of their visit, rather than going to any open checkout lane, they go through a designated fast lane. An associate checks their generated barcode receipt and customers complete their transaction via a credit card associated with their account. Fast lane associates are specially trained to manage issues that might arise during scan-and-go transactions.

Moving scan-and-go traffic into its own lane seems to bring together tactics used in earlier iterations of checkout optimization — express lanes and dedicated self-checkout — with the new tech innovation.

Retailers of all sizes have been experimenting with in-store checkout as they try to streamline an often frustrating part of the shopping experience.’s automated checkout concept, Amazon Go, represents perhaps the most radical rethinking of the checkout process. Questions remain, however, about the extent to which the company’s Just Walk Out technology can scale.

Amazon announced in May that it would be opening a fourth Amazon Go location in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other smaller retailers have likewise been exploring innovations to stop the in-store point of sale from bottlenecking. Global sporting goods retailer Decathlon, for instance, recently opened a concept store in California — its first in the U.S. — in which associates walk the store equipped with Apple devices that allow customers to check out without waiting at a central cash wrap.

Meanwhile at Sam’s Club, where the Scan & Go app has proven successful, the chain is trying to reduce transaction times. Earlier this year, Sam’s began piloting a solution that identifies a product without a customer needing to search for a barcode.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Walmart’s new checkout approach overcome the retailer’s previous difficulties with getting customers to adopt scan-and-go? Do you see this front-end layout replacing self-scan checkout entirely or will “fast lanes,” self-checkouts and regular checkouts all coexist?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Whoever solves the checkout paradox will leap to the head of the pack."
"People respond to how the world occurs around them. And a small change like this could produce strong results — helping people understand the value in more physical terms..."
"Cash wraps, register lanes, express lanes, self-checkout, scan and go, and whatever the future holds are driven by volume and demand more than any tech or format."

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28 Comments on "Walmart’s checkout pilot puts shoppers in the fast lane"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.

The customer experience is made up of hundreds of moments of contact. Something this simple can make a difference in the overall experience. The customer will decide if it makes a difference to them. Bravo for Walmart’s initiative to try something different. Double kudos for testing what works where. Walmart continues to impress with innovation at all levels. They have now realized that they are not too big to fail. More importantly they have adopted the innovation mantra of needing to “fail faster.”

Mark Ryski

Slow checkout is a conversion killer, and Walmart is right to focus on minimizing this. The new approach by Walmart could have a positive impact. Part of the problem with scan-and-go is that it doesn’t always work, which creates a whole new level of frustration for shoppers. The “Fast Lane” branding and additional staff support to ensure trouble-free transactions is smart. At this stage it’s hard to say how this new initiative will impact self-scan and regular checkouts, but I suspect that they will all co-exist until the right combinations are identified.

Michael La Kier

Even with a new approach, scan-and-go has fundamental issues. Scan-and-go shifts the burden of work to the shoppers and does not make things easier. While shoppers may be able to “skip the line” over the course of a shopping trip, the time to stop, scan, and bag items more than makes up for any time gained not standing in line. This is significantly different than grab-and-go or scan-and-go at a store that stocks a limited assortment.

Bob Amster

The checkout concept is a complicated combination of technology, ergonomics and human emotion. Piloting and adjusting to the customers’ reactions will determine how the scan-and-go concept evolves at Walmart into the form that is used in the long term. Can’t go wrong by testing.

Carol Spieckerman

Scan-and-go is a terrific convenience that is usually well executed at Sam’s locations but Walmart is a bit of a different animal. With items from miniature to massive, ensuring that items are scanned could be a challenge. Either way, Walmart should make every effort to speed up adoption and parlay convenience options to other formats/banners. The fast lane concept is another example of Walmart using carrots rather than sticks to shape shopper behavior.

Paula Rosenblum

I find this technology somewhat insulting. The simplest solution to the backup at the checkstand is — wait for it — add more cashiers.

I don’t feel like I want a part time job as a cashier. Does that make me a curmudgeon? I think it makes me a customer who expects to have a retailer work a little for my money.

Cathy Hotka

I’m with Paula. My local grocer’s self-checkout is downright hostile to people who are checking out a full basket. First it insists that I must stop scanning and start bagging because there are “too many items on the counter,” then, while I’m bagging, loudly and repeatedly asks me if I’ve finished scanning.

Self-checkout is great if a customer has a few items; beyond that, it’s just a pain.

Carol Spieckerman

The other day, a woman struck up a conversation with me at a Neighborhood Market. She was in the self-check (grudgingly) and said it just doesn’t feel “right” to her to use it. She said that every time she sees a self-check, she thinks of all the young people who may not have been hired (or could have been let go). It REALLY bugs her and surely she’s not alone. I wonder if this presents enough of a perception problem to warrant action.

Charles Dimov

It’s great that Walmart continues to test its processes. I like the idea of the fast lane. At the very least, it will bring greater attention to the option of using your smartphone for a fast checkout process. Walmart is on the right track by testing, observing, and adjusting. It takes patience, perseverance, and an openness to change.

I just don’t believe that any single method of checkout is going to dominate. Yes, an Amazon Go-like experience would be ideal. but for Walmart there is a very high variety of shoppers with all their own preferences. Some will like scan-and-go, others will be good with self-checkout (standard), while others will want the traditional checkout with a human cashier. I think we will have a multi-checkout model for a few more years, at the very least.

Mohamed Amer

Whoever solves the checkout paradox will leap to the head of the pack. It never made sense that after making your selections and filling up your cart, you had to wait in line, unload item by item, hand over your money and reload your cart. The bigger your shopping basket, the longer the wait as everyone navigated the operational chokepoint and the last (and lasting) shopping impression. The traditional checkout process penalizes your best customers.

Walmart’s new checkout approach is not its first and the company is learning from past attempts. I expect this time it will catch on and for the foreseeable future, all types of checkouts will coexist during a multi-year transition. Store redesigns will be necessary to accommodate smooth future flows as well as ensuring that robust in-store technologies and abundant bandwidths exist.

Harley Feldman

Walmart’s new checkout approach will work better due to attracting shoppers with the fast lane idea. Many shoppers would be happy to scan their items in the store as they are being placed in their shopping carts. The benefit for speed will occur at the fast lane when the associate will just verify the receipt. The process would work better if the scanning process also included charging the credit card and the fast lane was just used for verification that the items were scanned.

The fast lanes will evolve as they are tried and used by shoppers. Some people will want to use self-checkouts because they are more comfortable with them. The two checkout approaches will co-exist for some time.

Shep Hyken

Anything that can make the checkout process faster is better. The key will be to “teach” the customer how to use these fast lanes and self-checkouts. The airlines had to teach passengers to book flights and check in online. Eventually it became the norm. Eventually customers at Walmart (and other retailers) will adopt the faster and more convenient shopping experience.

Jeff Sward

Walmart is investing heavily in innovation. And they keep moving the needle. They “fail better.” They learn and evolve. Many retailers could benefit from being a “fast second.”

Gene Detroyer

Old habits are very difficult to break. Finding ways to ease change is paramount.

Scan-and-go is inevitable. Anything that saves time for a shopper is the future. Getting over those first hurdles of adoption is always difficult. The history of adoption has proven that. But once it starts to accelerate the masses will embrace it.

With the progress and speed of technological development, the question is “why should there ever be the traditional checkout line?”

Art Suriano
We are still in the infancy stages with this technology, and it will take time before the technology gets perfected. The problem is if I take the time to scan my items while I’m shopping, do I really want to have to wait while some store associate examines what I purchased and checks to see if I scanned everything? I understand the need to control theft, but it feels like a violation of privacy with a suspicion that I wasn’t honest with my purchases. Moreover it takes time, especially if the person in front of me has an issue. We need to get to the point like Amazon is doing with their Go stores where we can scan everything safely and accurately and leave the store. Eventually we’ll get there. Of course, the real issue is that retailers do not want to spend the money to staff the registers. They’d rather spend the money on technology. However, when they are successful, and we no longer need store associates for anything, I wonder how many will… Read more »
Ken Morris

Scan-and-go technology will take some time for consumers to make it a habit. There is definitely a learning curve and Walmart’s new in-store promotion of the “fast lane” will help awareness. As shoppers see other consumers avoiding a long line and quickly walking through the fast lane, it may inspire them to try the scan and go on their next visit.

There still is some friction with scan-and-go, as shoppers need to scan each item and then have their bar code receipt checked as they walk through the fast lane. Eventually, retailers will remove this friction by tagging (e.g., RFID) all items or having them automatically scanned via cameras (like Amazon Go) and it will change shopping as we know it.

Lauren Goldberg

I love the concept, but the execution will be key. As customers learn and navigate this behavior, having knowledgeable staff on hand is a must. I’m talking 1:1 staff to checkout lane as customers try this out and get familiar with the process. People will be attracted to the “fast” option, but if it takes more time due to user error, faulty machines or tech-phobia issues, it won’t be faster at all and will end up being a horrible experience.

David Weinand

Testing is good. Innovation is good. That display is certainly an eyesore but if the test proves successful I would imagine that this would eventually replace self-checkout as a.) I find that process loaded with friction and b.) self-checkout units are very expensive and why would a retailer keep them if the same process can be achieved via a mobile app?

Rich Kizer

Many people are leery of change; but change is always coming to a store near you. Walmart must be sure to train and train the staff before implementation, or the new advantage to rapidity becomes a mountain of aggravation and confusion for customers to climb.

Ryan Mathews

To answer this question we would first have to know the real source of the initial resistance. I first saw self-checkouts in the Superquinn stores in Ireland 20 years ago. Irish customers embraced the technology in part because Superquinn spelled out the clear advantages of it to them, rewarded them for using it, and limited access to the system to the “best” customers — which it turned out, could be almost anyone. In other words they did a good job in customer education and marketing. The stations didn’t replace regular checkouts, but they sure reduced front-end congestion. If it worked 20 years ago, I don’t know why it can’t work today.

Doug Garnett

At the risk of being accused of curmudgeonliness, I am not a fan of retail’s current obsession with checkout. Is it just because Amazon has a PR win with Amazon Go? (It’s not clear to me that it’s a shopper win, but time will tell.)

I keep hearing things about wanting “friction free” checkout. Personally, I rely on friction at checkout to look again at the things in my basked or my choices and make final decisions about what I’ll be buying.

As I’ve observed elsewhere, friction is an incredibly useful force in the physical world. Without friction human’s couldn’t walk. Airplanes couldn’t brake.

My primary recommendation to retailers is that there’s no reason to compete to be “first” to have some crazy new checkout idea. Most retailers should sit back and let the whole thing shake out before distracting from more important efforts.

Sterling Hawkins

People respond to how the world occurs around them. And a small change like this could produce strong results — helping people understand the value in more physical terms (a special place to checkout).

There will be some period of overlap with most of these technologies. Self-checkout still most often works in tandem with traditional checkout. As technology improves we’ll see some stores bet on some of these new technologies alone. We’ll be telling our kids there used to be a time you had to wait in line to “check out” of a store.

Cynthia Holcomb

Amazon Go — easy, pick one item and go. Alternatively, ever try self-checkout at Target? Balancing scanning multiple items ranging in size with a line of shoppers behind waiting their turn! Scanning, bagging, payments — all are a bit like juggling. Retailers might consider doing stress tests: “employee cashiers” vs. “shopper cashiers” before retailers invest too heavily in technology to replace human store personnel. Oh yeah, has anyone had a good time with self-checkout at Home Depot lately? Try self-checkout with lawn furniture. A real treat! And there is always an attendant standing, watching as we “shopper cashiers” struggle.

The mantra heard over and over, year after year, is about the importance of the customer experience. It look and feels some retailers are offloading the customer experience to the customer, so they can navigate their own experience free of pesky store personnel! Huh, what?

Brent Biddulph

As a consumer, retailer efforts to-date on scan-and-go checkout have been just too complex and poorly executed in-store. I mean, did retailers really expect a consumer to stand in front of a kiosk for several minutes to watch a video + pick-up a foreign handheld device to “self-checkout” before starting their journey?

C’mon, it just has to get better. Improved signage, value-added mobile app capabilities and simplified in-store messaging will be a great test!

Paco Underhill

North America trails Western Europe in checkout technology. Go to a Swedish supermarket and the majority of shoppers use some form of scan and go. The USA has had the luxury of cheap, often part-time labor and thus no economic pressure to innovate checkout. Also checkout and checkout line impulse sales are all high margin. Scan and go may reduce customer frustration — but there go magazine and and candy sales.

Lee Kent

I do believe this approach is headed in the right direction. If the customer is scanning as they place items in their cart and there are clear instructions about how to use the app. A thought might be to have shopping carts that are wired for motion so if you place something in or take something out, it flashes to let the shopper know to take action. And a counter to show them how many items they have scanned so they can simply count to make sure they have gotten them all. Give the customer features that will build confidence in the app and it has the chance to win. Just my 2 cents and short of all the high cost/high maintenance technology of Amazon Go.

Ananda Chakravarty
They will coexist. Looking back just a few years, self-checkout was introduced as another express lane. It was designed for the shopper with only a couple of items. It took advantage of removing wait time and letting shoppers checkout quickly with no hassle. And that’s what it did — provided your purchase was low count, limited bagging, no coupons, with a scannable bar code. To answer the question posed, each of these new innovations were designed to coexist with the current tech. Scan and go is no different and will be another option for customers who are more inclined to engage the store on their own terms. It satisfies a segment of the population and that’s enough to justify its presence. For the retailer, the tech saves some labor cost, and for the customer who is savvy enough to use it, it saves time. The new format will only highlight availability and drive some adoption. Cash wraps, register lanes, express lanes, self-checkout, scan and go, and whatever the future holds are driven by volume and… Read more »
James Ray

I learned many years ago, every bottle has a neck! Everyone’s definition of “fast” is different, hopefully they can fulfill their customers’ expectations.

"Whoever solves the checkout paradox will leap to the head of the pack."
"People respond to how the world occurs around them. And a small change like this could produce strong results — helping people understand the value in more physical terms..."
"Cash wraps, register lanes, express lanes, self-checkout, scan and go, and whatever the future holds are driven by volume and demand more than any tech or format."

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