The Future of Retail: Hassle-Free Checkout
Business + Economy

The Future of Retail: Hassle-Free Checkout

The way we pay for goods and services at stores and restaurants is changing as the traditional checkout counter gets replaced by new technologies. Many stores and small businesses are already using tablets or mobile phones that swipe debit or credit card, of course. “Purchases can now take place anywhere in the store thanks to payment technologies through mobile devices,” said Scott Lachut of PSFK’s Labs, which provides insights on retail trends.

But other changes are coming, fueled in part by new methods of mobile payment that are just starting to gain traction. Apple, of course, launched its Apple Pay mobile payment platform in the fall, and Square has been popular with small businesses and with the quick-service restaurant industry.

Related: 5 Innovations That Are Changing the Way We Shop

Still, retailers and customers alike are looking ahead to the day when there won’t be a checkout line at all and swiping a card — or even flashing your mobile phone — is a thing of the past. The promise is an even more efficient shopping experience for customers, while stores want to be able to process payments faster in order to increase sales.

“Are we at a point where customers can pick up an item and walk out? It’s a little early to say,” said Lachut.

Yet companies are moving in that direction. At the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City this week, Toshiba presented a new self-checkout concept called Touchless Commerce. It uses 3D and facial recognition technologies to quickly scan your face and the content of your basket at checkout, then immediately charges your credit card. As presented, the scanning would be limited to eight to 10 items in a supermarket basket, and perfecting the technology so that it can differentiate between multiple varieties of apples, for example, might take a while.

Just imagine, though, what the shopping experience would be like: The moment you enter a store, facial recognition tech will identify you, a clerk will instantly know your purchase history, and you’ll be presented with specific and personalized shopping items.

The upside? Transaction time can be reduced to less than two seconds. The downside? You potentially lose a bit more privacy, since you need to be registered ahead of time with your picture and credit card information at the ready.   

While the thought may be scary to some, this is only one step beyond where we are now: Stores, for example, already have data on what customers who use loyalty programs have bought, and retailers are already using that information to offer coupons or suggest other purchases. Amazon’s recommendation engine may not be able to recognize your face, but it sure knows what you’ve bought and like.

Related: Your Must-Read Guide to Mobile Payments

Technology isn’t the only obstacle to getting systems like Toshiba’s into stores. This concept, and others that will define the future of retail, are being teased at a time when the industry is struggling mightily. Retail sales in the U.S. fell in December by 0.9 percent, the biggest decline since last January, according to the Commerce Department on Wednesday. For any innovations to be widely adopted by retailers, they’ll have to really be shown to increase sales or reduce costs.

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