Is There a Limit to Mobile Self-Service?

Mobile self-service is advancing in the mass market.

With Walmart’s announcement this week that it is expanding its ‘Scan & Go’ program from 70 to 200 stores, mobile shoppers will be afforded the opportunity to do more themselves to check out of the store.

The concept of self-service is nothing new, especially for companies like Walmart. Before self-service technology, Walmart trained consumers to take their bags from the carousels at checkout and put them in their cart. Many other stores followed.

Over the years, more than 1,500 self-checkout lanes were installed at Walmart and then they sprouted up at airlines and grocery stores, as a logical follow-on to bank’s ATMs.

Mobile technology can move the self-service process to the next level, with consumers scanning barcodes on things they want to buy and paying at self-checkout terminals, much like grocery chain Stop & Shop has had for some time.

The question is how far shoppers will go into the arena of mobile self-service, even if it can be done.

Here’s a sample of consumer reaction in response to the Walmart announcement:

  • “Weird strategy. Fire cashiers and hire more security.”
  • “I think I'll go to the register with the cashier and have them bag the stuff for me. Why bother doing their work for them as I fumble with my smartphone and drain its battery?”
  • “I like dealing with a live person. I am so disappointed at the self-service machines.”
  • “This has no redeeming benefit nor value to us, the customer. Give me 50%-75% off my total bill for doing the work of their clerks and maybe it has some value. Getting me out of the store one minute faster isn't any value.”

The question of in-store, self-service mobile scanning and paying is not if it can be done, but rather how much will the consumer be comfortable doing.

Do you think there’s a limit to how far self-service mobile commerce can go?


3 comments about "Is There a Limit to Mobile Self-Service?".
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  1. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, March 21, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

    Great point Paula. And remember how people said they would never use an ATM, because they preferred dealing with real people at the bank?

  2. mike boland from BIA/Kelsey, March 21, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.

    Where it's eventually moving is the option to avoid checkout aisles altogether (both self serve and assisted). In other words, roving transactions throughout the store via barcode scan -- kind of like adding things to a wedding registry in-store.

    Like many things, Apple is already leading the way and has done this with its little-discussed Apple Store app for purchases in physical stores. I wrote about the whole thing over at Business Insider.

    It'll be a while before this is brought to third party retailers, but i think that's where we're headed. Scan via iPhone, pay via iTunes, on the spot (or some version of that)

  3. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, March 21, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.

    Agree, Mike that the technology certainly is headed in that direction with Apple stores being a great example, among others. Guess the ultimate question is the rate of consumer acceptance and adoption and if there will be any backlash. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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