How mobile self-checkout can help retailers in a post-COVID world

Linda Bustos

May 14th, 2020

We've all heard online shoppers will abandon a page that doesn’t load in “X seconds or less.” But in-store shoppers get antsy too -- physical retailers lose nearly $40 billion in potential sales each year from patrons who won’t wait longer than five minutes in a checkout line.

Note that this statistic dropped before the COVID-19 outbreak. For the stores allowed to remain open during this pandemic, queues have only become more painful, with customers facing lineups to get in and to check out.

While consumers are arguably more tolerant of slow lines under present conditions, physical distancing poses more checkout challenges. Many merchants refuse to handle reusable bags or physically touch cash and customer credit cards, interacting with customers from behind a plastic shield. Some self-checkout stations are closed off to preserve the 6-foot spread, and touchscreens pose their own threat.

Mobile self-checkout: a promising solution

With 63% of consumers already using their mobile devices to find product information and reviews in-store, supporting mobile self-checkout is a natural extension of the in-store digital experience. Pre-pandemic, 40% of consumers said they were more likely to shop at a store offering mobile self-checkout, and 63% of retailers were planning to support the ability to use a customer-owned mobile device as a point-of-sale checkout by 2022.

We can expect current behaviors to remain even once "non-essential" brick and mortar shops reopen. Conditioned by weeks to months of "new normal" retail experiences, consumers will be more conscious of social distancing and protective measures. We anticipate an even higher percentage of shoppers and retailers to embrace the concept of self-checkout through a personal device.

Mobile self-checkout is already here - with a problem...

Early adopters like Walmart, U-Haul, IKEA, 7-11 and Macy's have already launched scan-and-go applications. The problem is they're native applications requiring shoppers do download an app (friction) on iOS or Android (exclusion).

Eliminating self-checkout friction with headless commerce and PWAs

For a self-checkout solution to gain traction and make an impact on wait times and safety, it should be universally accessible to all customers with a smartphone. Building the feature into a progressive web app (PWA) enables access through any browser (and simplifies development and maintenance to boot).

Stance Socks is one of the first brands to leverage PWAs for mobile self-checkout.

How Stance uses microservices for mobile self-checkout

With Stance's mobile self-checkout solution, shoppers scan barcodes with their cameras to add items to a digital shopping bag as they fill a physical bag (colored differently from regular checkout bagging).

Integrating seamlessly with Stance’s in-store POS, Stripe payments stack and digital commerce engine, the mobile self-checkout API pulls product data, pricing and payment services into the web app to create the cart, update contents and processes payment.

Customers can pay by credit card, Apple Pay or GPay. Says Stance’s EVP of Direct-to-Consumer, Paul Zaengle:

“ApplePay and GPay are the fastest for consumers – they can easily get through a 2-3 item purchase in under a minute. A credit card takes slightly longer, as it adds 21 keystrokes, but is still pretty quick using an integration with Stripe.”

On a shopper's way out, an associate quickly scans a digital receipt displayed on the phone screen to match it to bagged goods. Each digital purchase receipt is unique and time-and-date stamped with a color-changing bar tracking the number of items to discourage theft.

Ringing in results

Zaegle reports mobile self-checkout accounts for 15% of sales daily “with minimal in-store signage and marketing so far,” and that customers who use it once typically use it again. “I know this number will increase as we get into (the) holiday season – as soon as there is a line, adoption will go up, as customers begin to see the utility and convenience of it.”

Stance’s mobile self-checkout also boasts a 91% email capture rate -- more than double the capture through its retail POS.

“I’m bullish on self-checkout. It combines the richness of a physical retail store visit with the convenience of eCommerce; it provides a sweet spot to give our guests the best experience possible. As more retailers implement solutions like this, it will become a consumer expectation.”

Rapid rollout

With microservices, extending mobile self-checkout to the physical store didn’t require a full rip-and-replace platforming project, nor did it require an overhaul of Stance’s retail POS systems. Using only a small team of developers, mobile self-checkout went live in less than seven weeks in its pilot store, with subsequent locations deploying in under two weeks per store.

Tying the threads

Data collected through mobile self-checkout connects with personalization and subscription services. This enables cross-channel behavior and purchase trends to be applied to recommendations segmented to a visitor’s geolocation, including affinities to college and sports teams, artists, influencers, designs, styles and more.

Although today many enterprise ecommerce platforms have gone headless, most stop short at decoupling the front end from the back end commerce platform. While such decoupled architecture supports CMS and DXP-led commerce, SPAs and PWAs, achieving true commerce anywhere requires modular, portable capabilities.

Rapidly roll out mobile self-checkout with microservices

Mobile self-checkout is one way to adapt the in-store experience to a mobile-first and post-pandemic world. And it's possible to get a "pocket point-of-sale" solution up and running in advance of stores reopening.

Regardless of your legacy platform, you can be self-checkout ready in as little as two weeks with Elastic Path's mobile self-checkout reference experience.

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Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.