We at Fujitsu have had a keen interest in the retail industry for a while now.
It’s a fact less well known in the UK, but in other countries, we’ve made significant progress in the ‘frictionless shopping’ arena.
Like the recent Amazon Go Grocery stores that opened in Seattle, we too recently previewed our “Grab and Go” technology in a store located at our Kawasaki offices with Lawson Inc., a Japanese convenience store franchise. The store concept was opened to better understand how technology can serve the retail sector, addressing Japan’s dwindling workforce in a rapidly aging society.
As with everything we do, we’ve approached R&D in retail with a concerted focus on reducing customer friction during the checkout process and supporting store colleagues serve customers better.
However, in the UK we are experiencing an alarming increase of violence and abuse targeted towards the 3 million colleagues that work in the industry. The majority of this violence and abuse is experienced at key points of customer friction the most common being when challenging a customer suspected of committing fraud, or refusing the sale of age restricted goods.
Whilst violence and abuse should not be tolerated it is with this backdrop that we have set out to understand if there is a role for technology to help protect store colleagues from the scourge of such crime.
The self-checkout is a point of customer interaction and friction
The self-checkout has been an incredibly useful tool for brick-and-mortar retailers for close to two decades now. Especially as costs have increased due to government legislation and new entrants have entered the market and driven prices down, the self-checkout has been integral in helping retailers keep their costs down – machines don’t require an hourly wage.
However, despite all the practical benefits it has provided retail operations, it’s been a different story for the store colleagues that assist customers with their transactions at self-checkouts.
The increased customer friction in the payment process can offer the opportunity to deliver great customer service or, it can provide a catalyst for customer abuse and violence.
Whilst self-service provides a convenient channel for customers it has also become the target of organised criminal gangs that are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods. Opportunist thieves are also targeting the self-checkout as a recent study by the University of Leicester found that self-checkout machines had the ability to turn honest shoppers into thieves.
Shop theft is sometimes considered a victimless crime, but the cost can be significant from both a financial and human standpoint. Store colleagues that experience violence and abuse when intervening in a potentially fraudulent customer transaction or denying someone the sale of alcohol can feel the effects long after the incident has taken place, impacting on their families, and their life within their communities.
Retailers sit at the heart of many of our most deprived communities and whilst many of the causes for the increase in violence and abuse may be societal we must explore ways to protect the colleagues that work in these stores and that provide such a valued service.
USCAN removing the friction in self-service
So, our attention and research and development in our Fujitsu USCAN self-checkout solution has been focused on finding new ways to apply technology to reduce these points of friction.
We are blending artificial intelligence, machine vision and mining POS transaction data to identify items that are removed from the basket but not scanned by the self-checkout.
When we detect an item hasn’t been scanned we suspend the transaction, allowing the store colleague to intervene and assist the customer to complete the transaction by scanning the item. This provides a less accusatory approach to handling potential customer fraud and error, and reduces the potential for customer conflict.
With an increasing level of theft committed by organised gangs, having these controls in place is a useful deterrent in deflecting such activity away from the store protecting store colleagues, merchandise, and store profits.
But organised crime comes in many guises and we’re developing technology to identify products scanned at the point of sale, which will determine that the item being scanned is the same item that is going into the bagging area. With our latest development, we can determine if a product barcode has been substituted or whether a lower value item has been substituted in place of a higher value item on the weigh scale in an effort to spoof the security scales and under pay for the item.
Our use of technology is not exclusively focused on detecting fraud and error. We are currently prototyping a solution to automatically determine if a customer is over 25 years of age and eligible to purchase age restricted items. Whilst accelerating scan to pay times at self-checkout and reducing customer queues it also provides the self-checkout supervisor with more time to support customers complete their shopping journeys.
And for store workers required to multi-task, we’ve recently brought to market a solution that allows store colleagues to interact with the self-checkout via a wearable device, such as an Android/IOS watch. This is particularly useful in a convenience store environment where store colleagues need to work hands-free. Receiving a vibration on their wrist a store colleague can be alerted to an intervention event, and acknowledge the event via the watch, such as age verification, allowing the customer to complete the transaction.
The retail industry is going through significant disruption. Businesses are trying to address the challenges of today while readying themselves for the challenges of tomorrow.
This means understanding when and where to spend capital has become a delicate game.
However, some retailers are facing unwelcome news from their self-service channel partner that they will no longer provide service and support unless customers upgrade to the latest version of their self-checkout system hardware.
This premature obsolescence of self-checkout hardware is unwelcome news for many customers buffeted by inflationary cost challenges and will require a significant multi-million pound capital investment programme offering little or no justifiable return on investment.
Further customers upgrading their self-checkout systems will do so knowing that their investment will need to be depreciated over at least seven years tying customers into a future based on the self-service channel strategy of today, and not the frictionless future of tomorrow.
USCAN offers an alternative solution, with a simple change of their self-service software Fujitsu can continue to support your legacy self-service systems without the significant investment required to undertake unnecessary and expensive system upgrades, whilst moving you to a modern platform that can potentially boost performance by up to 20%.
USCAN enables retailers to deliver channel innovation today whilst freeing your capital to be invested in the frictionless self-service channel of tomorrow.
If you want to ensure your business is prepared for an uncertain future, get in touch today to see if we can help.