With the growth of online grocery shopping, retail businesses are investigating new technologies and ways to shop. For companies considering innovative eCommerce tools, we’ve examined consumer sentiments regarding features like checkout-less stores and cashier-free checkouts.
What we will cover
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, online grocery shopping has seen a significant boom. The growth cited by early adopters of the online ordering systems has encouraged grocery retailers to expand their stores’ technological services. Taking into account the investments of time and money that come with digital tools, business owners should only implement those most useful for their customers.
Checkout-free and cashierless stores are just two of the innovations currently being developed. Both of these technologies change the way customers buy grocery and convenience store products. They allow customers to either scan their own groceries or simply place items in their bag and leave the store. Payment can either be required at a self-service machine or processed directly via smartphone application. Aisle24 and Amazon’s Just Walk Out are examples of this.
Adopting new ways of selling is a complex decision, as businesses must consider how both employees and customers will take to them. To help small and midsize grocery retailers learn more about consumers’ current preferences and views on grocery store technology, GetApp surveyed more than 1,000 Canadian grocery shoppers living in urban or suburban areas (full methodology at the bottom of this article).
Who is interested in checkout-less shopping?
Of the urban and suburban Canadians surveyed, 79% showed some level of interest in trying checkout-less or cashier-free shopping. 40% of respondents were very interested while 39% reported being somewhat interested. Only 12% report not really being interested, with an even smaller 8% not interested at all.
The tech-savviness of customers plays a large role in their desire to test out checkout-less and cashier-free stores. Canadian respondents who identify themselves as technology trendsetters show much more interest in trying checkout-less shopping than those who limit their technology use.
In fact, interest in cashierless grocery checkout directly correlates with tech-savviness amongst respondents. 96% of respondents who like trying new technologies and feeling like a trendsetter show interest in these shops (69% are very interested and 27% are somewhat interested), while only 32% of those who limit their use of technology to a minimum say they are ‘very’ (15%) or ‘somewhat’ (17%) interested.
Interestingly, consumers’ ages could also indicate their readiness to try checkout-less shopping. When separated by age group, younger survey respondents showed interest at higher rates than their older counterparts. For example, 91% of all respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 show interest in cashierless shops, while only 68% of those between ages 56 and 65 showed as much interest. In light of this information, SMEs should take steps to get to know the demographics of their customer base before implementing new tools.
Why aren’t some shoppers interested?
Despite the overwhelming interest in new grocery checkout technologies, there are a few aspects discouraging some people from engaging with them. The majority of the 86 disinterested respondents said they did not want to contribute to the elimination of jobs. However, despite the belief that automation causes job loss, a study by the Center for Popular Democracy and United for Respect found that most cashiers feel their tasks were being automated rather than their jobs.
Following fears of automation, the next most common reasons for not wanting to try checkout-less shopping related to their comfort levels using the smartphone and in-store technology involved. Respondents cited desires to avoid using their phone while shopping, worries about the store’s technology malfunctioning, and not having an employee present to ask for help. One survey respondent tied these preoccupations together and simply wrote, “What if there is an error?”
How often would customers use checkout-less stores?
Of the 977 survey respondents interested in using checkout-less stores, over a third (35%) would like to use them for all or almost all of their food shopping if the stores were available everywhere. Another third (33%) would like to use them for about half of their shopping, while nearly a quarter (24%) see themselves using them on occasion. A minority of 8% of interested shoppers would only use cashierless stores in an emergency.
The frequency of checkout-less shop visits varies slightly based on the respondent’s living area. For example, 34% of respondents living in urban areas indicated they would like to use cashierless stores for all or almost all of their shopping. 31% of suburban residents would also like to go as often, showing near equal viability in both areas. Currently, Canadian checkout-less stores such as Aisle24 are mostly located in metropolis areas such as Toronto or Montreal, but expansions into more residential areas are expected soon.
What do shoppers want from grocery checkout technology?
When considering switching to new grocery checkout payment methods, customer preferences should be taken into account, as they will be the primary users. When asked what the most important advantage of cashierless shopping would be, nearly three out of four respondents (73%) said avoiding queues. The second most preferred advantage would be the speed of paying for groceries, cited by 70% of survey takers.
With the speed of the grocery checkout process first in consumers’ minds, SMEs should ensure that their adopted technology is quick to use. Ample space in the scanning and bagging area should be provided if customers are to scan groceries themselves, so as not to clog checkout queues. Easy to follow instructions should also be posted clearly to help less tech-savvy shoppers carry out their purchases with ease.
For many cashierless stores such as Amazon Just Walk Out and Aisle24, smartphone applications are a requirement for shopping. Depending on the technology, customers may also need a smartphone to scan product barcodes or a QR code which allows them to enter the store, or both.
How comfortable are consumers with grocery store apps?
Luckily, most respondents (85%) feel comfortable installing a supermarket app, with 45% reporting very high levels of comfort with the technology. Smartphone usage amongst Canadians is very high and owning a smartphone was a prerequisite for survey participation, which could be two reasons that Canadians seem especially comfortable with this grocery store technology.
However, when it comes to payment processing technology, customers are less at ease. Only 15% of respondents reported feeling as comfortable with letting the app connect directly to their bank accounts. These sentiments show that shoppers may be comfortable sharing some information with stores, but draw the line at financial information.
On a more positive note, almost half of respondents to the survey (47%) reported high comfortability levels with using their smartphones to scan products, with a further 40% declaring themselves somewhat comfortable with this task. Only 11% of respondents stated they would be uncomfortable doing this.
For SMEs considering upgrading their grocery checkout process, there are quite a few considerations to make. Depending on the eCommerce tools you want to implement —such as retail POS systems or payment processing tools, for example— certain amenities will also need to be implemented.
Here are some questions retail store owners should ask before taking on new tools:
- Will customers need to rely on internet access to make purchases?
- How will I educate non-tech-savvy customers about the new technologies?
- Do shoppers have enough space to carry out new checkout processes comfortably?
- How will I know how my customers are adapting to the tools?
- In what ways can I provide customer service in light of the new operations?
Once you know your customers have been thought of, it’s easier to take the dive to employ new technology.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.
To collect the data for this report, we conducted an online survey in January and February 2022. The survey was sent to 1,350 people, of which 1,063 were selected to participate. The sample of participants is representative of the population of Canada regarding aspects of age and gender, and the criteria for selecting participants are as follows:
- Canadian resident
- Over 18 years old
- Must physically shop for groceries at least once a month or more
- Lives in either an urban or suburban area
- Has a smartphone
- Must be able to correctly identify one feature of checkout-free shopping out of three possible answers after being provided a definition and an explanatory video