Front and centre

The checkout area is functioning more efficiently than ever thanks to new technology

Technology is everywhere you look and it only takes a single trip through the supermarket checkout to see how much it’s impacting the front end. Technological advancements in the sector have enabled grocers the capability to handle payment methods efficiently, reduce labour costs, sanitize shopping carts with a touch of a button and keep an eye on shrink. Here are six technologies that are quickly changing the face of point-of-sale.  

Cash Management 

In terms of annual gross revenue, credit cards represent 31% of transactions, followed by cash (29%) and debit cards (26%), according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Bank of Canada. 

“That is a lot of money to be handling, so there are some unique innovations being released right now for cash management and cash automation at the POS,” says Brian Sullivan, retail industry analyst and consultant, SCRS Services and former CEO of NCR Canada. German-based Wincor Nixdorf’s Cash Cycle Management uses “smart” deposit, dispensing and recycling systems that automate the entire cash handling process and shortens the cash cycle. Wincor is placing solutions for cash management at the heart of the Wincor World conference in January. “The technology combines functions found in ATMs, self-checkout and secure cash office to create zero shrink in a very vulnerable are of retail,” says Sullivan. 

Employees don’t touch the cash anymore due to a complete automation of the cash management process, from customer to automated secure pickup. “It is really quite fantastic when you find technology that can handle 10 demoninations of paper currency in under a second,” says Sullivan.  NCR Canada’s SelfServ Checkout also includes cash management and automation that features a standard coin and note recycling option. It enables retailers to invest fewer resources in managing cash.   

 Contactless Payment 

MasterCard has pioneered a contactless payment system called PayPass—an ideal tool for retailers looking to speed up the payment process and shorten lines. PayPass credit cards are embedded with a small computer chip and antennas that allow consumers to simply tap the card at a reader. It then transmits the payment through radio frequency. 

“It benefits the retailer by speeding up the process at the till and eliminates card-orientation issues,” says Scott Lapstra, vice-president, market development, MasterCard Canada. 

This past summer, MasterCard tested Near Field Communications–enabled phones with MasterCard PayPass capability on Bell Mobility’s wireless network. The four-month trial was a major step in bringing contactless payments via mobile phones to the Canadian market. 

 Touch-screen Technology 

Touch screens with function keys are quickly becoming a popular choice over keyboards, which require cashiers to memorize numerous product codes. “The screens and applications create a more intuitive environment that reduces cashier training and specialization,” says Sullivan. “Keyboards force the operator to select the right choice at the right point in the sales transaction.”

NCR has a unique LCD interface called NCR RealPOS Dynakey available in touch and non-touch-screen versions. This operator interface for point-of-sale terminals that leads employees through intuitive, ATM-like interactions. It’s designed to work how employees think, instead of training employees to think like a computer. 

“The simplicity of this platform allows cashier training time decreases of 60%, productivity up by 44% and errors being reduced by 89%,” says Tim Dickey, self-service solutions specialist, NCR Canada. “The direction that this technology is going in is easing usability and enabling retailers to increase productivity.”

Ultraviolet Light Cart Sanitization 

A new company called SaniCart-UV has developed an easy way for customers to sanitize their shopping carts in less than 20 seconds. 

The way the system works is that a consumer pulls his or her shopping cart out from the pack and pushes it into the SaniCart-UV system handle first. With a simple push of the start button, a germicidal ultraviolet light is emitted for approximately 10 seconds, efficiently destroying any germs or bacteria on the handle. A hand-sanitizer dispenser is conveniently located on the system to ensure no additional bacteria will be transmitted after the process has taken place. 

“You have thousands of hands touching those cart handles, including customers who have young children that sit in the basket area. So we have looked at an option from a supermarket perspective that will address core concerns about sanitization,” says Glenn Davis, CEO, SaniCart-UV. “The customer is made visually aware that their cart has been sanitized prior to them handling it further, providing them with peace of mind.”

SaniCart-UV, which only takes up a minimal amount of floor space, uses C band germicidal ultraviolet light that has been used in hospitals for decades to disinfect surgical equipment, according to Davis. The biggest benefits of the system is that it does not use any chemicals, water or liquid detergents, which in turn eliminates any risk of allergic reactions to handling the equipment.   

 Shrink-reducing System 

Evolution Robotics Retail (ERR) and NCR’s LaneHawk technology enables grocers of all sizes to eliminate most losses from bottom-of-basket (BOB). “Retailers are always concerned about shrink and LaneHawk is a platform that will automatically look at the bottom of the basket,” says Dickey. “You might have clients who leave a case of Coke on the BOB and when they go through the register, the system will feed that information into the POS platform.”

LaneHawk combines video with patented object-recognition technology to detect and identify items left in the BOB during checkout. Unnoticed by cashiers, such items cause losses averaging $3,500 per lane in Canada each year, according to data from ERR. LaneHawk alerts cashiers and automatically enters BOB items into the shopper’s order, reducing shrink. Since items do not need to be removed from the basket for scanning, checkout speed and shopper service are enhanced while doing away with cashier injuries from lifting heavy items from the BOB.   


In November, Tesco created buzz in the grocery industry by opening a concept store in Northampton, U.K., with only self-checkout lanes and no cashiers. While the retailer claims customers have reacted positively to the idea, workers’ unions have expressed serious concerns over the implications of completely eliminating cashiers.

consumers saw self-service as a novelty and it has taken time for them to get used to was never intended to replace assisted services, but retailers are getting better at balancing technology at the front end.

“In the U.K., self-checkouts are seen almost everywhere. It’s a way of dealing with high-traffic peaks and the only difference is that U.K. self-service systems are designed to deal with a smaller footprint—single bags instead of multiple bags,” says Sullivan.  “With the provision of the “anywhere checkout” or single-bag design, retailers can now deploy self-checkout without being concerned about consuming valuable floor space at the POS.”

The customer interface on self-checkout systems has progressed tremendously in terms of better lead-through, graphics and efficiency. NCR SelfServ Checkout has animated lead-through software and “follow-me” lighting at various points on the device to guide consumers though each step of the checkout process. “Consumers don’t want to feel like they are playing some complex video game when using self-service systems. They want to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible,” says Dickey. 

The system also incorporates audio prompts to walk the consumer through the process. In Canada, English, French and Spanish are included on the system, but more than 20 different languages are also available. “There are many areas in Canada where English is not the first language and a lot of retailers are catering their stores to specific ethnic segments,” says Dickey.   

 Key Drivers 

In the past, consumers saw self-service as a novelty and it has taken time for them to get used to it. Dickey says it was never intended to replace assisted services, but what he finds is that retailers are getting better at balancing technology at the front end. One challenge is adjusting to the highs and lows in customer traffic throughout the day. 

It’s that last process of going through the checkout where grocers have the opportunity to positively influence the customer and get them to come back

“If you are able to put in a self-checkout, for example, you have one person covering a number of lanes instead of one person covering each lane,” says Dickey. “That is a huge productivity gain and it’s a real benefit to consumers. Self-service is helping us in ways that we aren’t even noticing.”

That said, the front end it is usually the last impression a customer will have of your store. “It’s that last process of going through the checkout where grocers have the opportunity to positively influence the customer and get them to come back,” says Sullivan. 

As the challenge for retailers is finding new ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors, new technologies allow them to do just that. 

“We can provide retailers a way of getting themselves some uniqueness and giving them a leg up on the competition a little differently,” says Dickey. “That is where there is going to be more of an impact. But keep in mind, as much as we have all these great new technologies, if you don’t have the strategy to integrate it fully into your unique operation, it’s not going to bring you the benefits you’re looking for.”

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