Grocery shopping is a necessity — a weekly experience tied to waiting in line at the supermarket. Aside from being wholly inadvisable in the current situation, it’s been estimated that we lose, on average, 10 hours each year simply by waiting in the cashier line.

Now think about all of the physical contact that takes place with each purchase: You touch the product to put it in the cart, touch it again to put it on the belt, the cashier touches it to scan it, you touch it again to put it in your bag … Not just unhygienic, but also highly inefficient.

And what about the costs retailers incur by employing lots of cashiers? The self-scanning terminals in bigger supermarkets help offset the costs, but these solutions still increase the cost of product loss, not to mention putting the scanning work on the customer and creating new hurdles in the shopping experience.

 

A rewarding experience

So why not eliminate the traditional scan-and-pay process? Go into a store, grab the things you need and simply leave. Payment? Automatic. Amazon Go already does this: You log in with your phone’s Amazon Go app, the cameras and sensors in the stores track you and your company at every step — not biometrically, but as an object — and trace you as you collect products around the store (and put them right in your shopping bag). Everything you pick up is immediately linked to your account. Even if you are shopping with a friend or family member, they are separately tracked but still registered to your account. For paying, you just walk out of the store, and the products show up on your bill in the app.

However, the highly complex environment of cameras and sensors and the artificial intelligence (AI) it takes to generate purchasing information out of the collected data — and bill it accurately — comes at a high price. Changes in store layouts require costly adjustments in the algorithms. If you’d like to repurpose the floor for holiday seasons or special promotions, you’d need to reprogram the system to adapt. The technical requirements and the computing power needed are significant. Still, Amazon Go is an impressive solution that will only become more agile with time.

 

An alternative approach to the customer experience

But what about retailers that can’t invest in complex infrastructures? How do they get the same results with a more cost-effective system — one that might even have additional benefits? The answer has been under our noses for some time: radio frequency identification tags, or RFID tags. RFID hasn’t been viable in retail until now: Liquids and metal packaging interfered with the tags. New RFID technology not only improves this, but the bulk per-tag cost has also dropped to about a single Euro cent.

Big brands such as Adidas, Decathlon and Uniqlo are already using RFID technology in some capacity, mostly with scanning pads — big scanners where you unload your pile of clothes and have it scanned all at the same time. In Japan, RFID is already being used in supermarkets on a broader scale in order to move towards a fully cashierless future.

 

A step further

At this year’s EuroShop, the world’s largest retail trade fair, DXC Technology, HARTING and Murata presented their brand-new concept for RFID self-checkout. The counter can quickly and seamlessly make a single scan of a complete shopping bag: scanning and paying takes under 30 seconds.

As with Amazon Go, customers put the products right in their shopping bag. But with DXC’s solution, the customer places the shopping bag in a scanner that seamlessly reads the products and immediately displays the bill. A contactless payment later, the customer leaves with a full shopping bag. Using the retailer’s app could offer even faster checkout.

An RFID middleware layer tracks each instance of a product via a digital twin, and RFID-based shelves can see where it is at any time. This opens doors for smart advisory systems that explain products to a consumer, such as the specific vintage of a wine. Even better — imagine changing prices on shelves in real time in instant compliance with EU pricing regulations, or lowering prices to clear out soon-to-expire products, thereby saving valuable hours in manual retagging. And tags can be used across the product’s entire life cycle, including in production and in the supply chain, optimising and automating logistics and streamlining product recalls — each step contributing to a higher return on investment (ROI) for the tag technology.

With greater use of RFID tags, the future of retail can begin.