High tech shopping

Checking out high tech shopping - the now, and what is yet to come.
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These technologies are already in common use and claim to make shopping faster and more convenient for consumers - but do they? We road tested them to find out.

Self-service checkouts

Hi-tech_shoppingWhat are they?

Introduced to Australia in 2003, self-service checkouts allow you to scan, bag and pay for items unassisted (theoretically, at least). Many consumers will be familiar with self-service checkouts, which already exist in some Coles, Woolworths, Big W and Kmart stores. Coles has already installed self-service checkouts in more than 90 stores
and plans to roll them out to a third of all its stores during the next two years. Woolworths declined to comment.

The good and the bad

We surveyed 31 CHOICE staff members to get their opinions on self-service checkouts; overall, there were mixed feelings about the technology. Of the 31 staff members, 17 prefer regular checkouts, arguing it’s less complicated, more reliable and convenient. Some also expressed concern about self-service checkouts taking people’s jobs. However, Coles claims any displaced employees are redeployed elsewhere in the store. Of the remaining staff, 10 have no preference either way, with only four preferring self-service.

Although most of our staff members preferred regular checkouts, they’re prepared to use self-service if the queues are shorter and they only have a small number of items. However, there were some definite frustrations. One staff member said that “owing to complications with bagging technology and difficulties finding fruit and vegetable items on the touchscreen, the process often seems slower and less convenient than a regular checkout”. Similarly, others commented on scales in the bagging area not being sensitive enough. Most needed assistance from an attendant at least once, and almost half have had difficulty getting their attention. Overall, however, CHOICE staff find self-service checkouts easy to use.

The test

To get a fresh perspective on the technology, we also sent four self-service “virgins” shopping in Coles and Woolworths stores. We equipped them with a standard shopping list and clear instructions to only use a self-service checkout.

Only one said they would use self-service again, two said “maybe” and one a definite “no”. All four participants found the system very easy to use and the interface self-explanatory. They found locating and scanning the shopping-list items pretty easy, except for the single red chilli. Half the participants had to seek assistance when the bagging area didn’t recognise the small item. Two also commented that they prefer the Coles interface over Woolworths’.

The verdict

None of our 31 staff members would consider going through a self-service checkout with a trolley full of groceries. Although they offer consumers with fewer items a welcome alternative to long queues, self-service checkouts won’t be taking over regular checkouts anytime soon.

‘Tap & Go’

HT-Suprmkt-shopping-CBACM19What is it?

‘Tap & Go’ card readers are increasingly appearing in petrol stations, newsagents, chemists, takeaways and, more recently, Bunnings and Dymocks. The technology allows customers to hold their credit or debit card within three centimetres of the reader and immediately pay for items costing less than $100, without needing to sign or enter a PIN. Not all cards have this capability - those that do will have the relevant logo on the front. Visa cards have a payWave logo, while MasterCard uses the PayPass system.

The good and the bad

While this technology is certainly convenient, some customers are concerned about security. Financial institutions stress there is no greater risk in using these cards than standard credit or debit cards. “Contactless is safer than carrying cash – if you lose cash or it is stolen there is no way to recover it, whereas most people will return a lost card,” says Adam Welch, Commonwealth Bank associate media advisor. Welch also cites a zero liability policy, whereby customers aren’t liable for any unauthorised transactions (provided they meet certain guidelines), and argues that because the card doesn’t leave your hand, you’re less likely to lose it or leave it behind, or be vulnerable to fraud through card-skimming.

What is stopping thieves from making many small purchases using the technology? Welch says the low-dollar limit deters thieves as they cannot buy big-ticket items such as TVs, and the more purchases they make the more likely they are to get caught.

The verdict

While this technology makes transactions faster and may reduce queuing time, the consumer loses their right to choose – once you have a card with this capability, you cannot turn it off (as you can global roaming on a mobile phone) to prevent misuse. The technology is not yet in supermarkets, but Coles plans to speed up smaller EFTPOS transactions and is considering prioritising this card technology. CHOICE expects Coles to keep consumer security concerns front of mind in any decisions it makes.


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