More and more, mobile devices are being integrated into technology that simplifies the routine tasks people do every day. From adding points to loyalty programs to paying for coffee at Starbucks, mobile phones are becoming an indispensable crutch for human existence.
Even giant retail chains are jumping on the proverbial bandwagon, with the quest for the latest and greatest self-checkout system turning to mobile phones for the ultimate in convenience and cost savings.
Last week in Rogers, Ark., Walmart began testing an iPhone application that could potentially expedite and streamline the self-checkout process. The "Scan & Go" app allows shoppers to do just that — scan their items while they shop and bag them as they go. Once they have finished, shoppers take their cart full of merchandise to a self-checkout kiosk and complete their purchase through traditional payment methods.
The app, which was produced by the company's social and mobile developers at Walmart Labs, also allows customers to create virtual shopping lists, checking that items on their list are in stock.
According to a report from Reuters, Walmart solicited employees with iPhones to participate in the pilot, reportedly asking those staff members to extend the offer of participation to friends and family.
If successful, the "Scan & Go" app could mark the next phase of self-checkout that utilizes mobile devices. Given Walmart's status as the world's largest retailer, the success or failure of the app could have broad implications for others in the industry.
"I really like that Walmart is testing an application like this because a company like them drives entire industries," said Frank Olea, of Olea Kiosks. "If Walmart is going to do it or even try it, that means others will follow suit."
As for how "Scan & Go" would affect traditional self-checkout, Olea feels it would increase its use — at least until the phones could take mobile payment, which some believe is inevitable.
"Payment on the smartphone is coming fast, and it needs to be seamless and secure before it will be totally embraced by all demographics," said Ron Bowers, the SVP of business development at Frank Mayer & Associates. "We need the integration of design and operational execution to catch up to the requested convenience enhancements that the connected consumer anticipates and will expect."
Walmart, along with Best Buy, Target and Lowe's, are among the companies that have signed on with the Merchant Customer Exchange, which is developing a mobile application that would allow customers to pay for purchases at participating retailers with their mobile devices.
The mobile element is a logical and natural extension of self-checkout, Bowers explained, a process that is valued in convenience by the consumer and in cost-savings by retailers.
Walmart has been open regarding its desire to add more self-checkout as a means of lowering operating costs and prices for the consumer. Walmart CFO Charles Holley said at an investor conference in early March that the chain can save $12 million a year for every second it can cut from the average check-out time at Walmart locations in the U.S.
According to Bowers, it will take time to ensure that the application is flawless and well-planned so that it would be accepted by both consumers and retailers as convenient and secure.
Although Walmart could not be reached for comment by Kiosk Marketplace, and there is little known regarding what anti-theft and security measures use of the app would require, other media reports indicate that the company does not have a clear goal for the application going nationwide — an admirable strategy, according to Olea.
"I especially like that Walmart is testing this very slowly and has no real plans on how it moves forward," Olea said. "After all, nobody knows how the public will adopt it. The 'if we build it, they will come' scenario has failed over and over. Look at IKEA pulling self-checkout. Walmart is doing it right."
Read more about self-checkout.