Shopping for new technology

A handful of large Australian retailers are interested in deploying a new self-checkout system released last week that may bring an end to tedious supermarket queues.

In a bid to make grocery shopping a less time-consuming experience, NCR Australia launched their FastLane self-checkout system at the Business Technology 2002 Exhibition in Melbourne.

The technology, which allows consumers to scan, bag and pay for their own merchandise and choose their preferred form of payment on screen, has already received extensive interest from major supermarket chains and department stores in Australia and New Zealand, said Mike Inge, vice president of NCR's Retail Solutions Group Asia-Pacific.

Inge said NCR has been talking to several local prospects about trialling the new system. "It would be fair to day we've been speaking to all of the large supermarket chains and department stores here," he said, declining to disclose further details.

Meanwhile, NCR's FastLane is receiving strong adoption in the US with around 40 pilot customers there, according to Inge.

In the US, Kmart has installed the system in 1,300 stores. Other US grocery retailers including Albertson's, Publix and Shaws, and in Europe, retailers and wholesale clubs in Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands are trialling FastLane, said Jason Jarvis, marketing manager for NCR Australia's retail services division.

The average implementation cost for FastLane is $A40,000 to $A50,000, covering software, hardware and integration, Inge said.

According to Inge, retail clients are seeing a payback within 12 to 24 months of implementation.

The system can be configured to take small loads or trolley-loads of items.

The plus for business productivity is that the system "gives a greater sense of balance" to the entire front end of a store, said Inge.

Inge said it would take shoppers as long to go through self-scanning lanes as at a manned till.

Also, the system can detail the price and weight of every item more effectively than an operator, he said.

But he conceded honesty would still play a big part in the success of the new service.

However, he believed people were unlikely to steal goods at the checkout area. "Our studies show that people tend not to steal at the front end. If they are going to, it will be in the aisles and away from the spotlight."

NCR claims stock loss has not been an issue for retail clients of FastLane, saying only 1.6 to 2.4 per cent of their sales were lost through theft.

However, NCR will not rely completely on Australian good-will.

One supervisor will be assigned to monitor every four self-checkouts.

"In this way they can monitor items that may be restricted, such as tobacco or alcohol, and intervene if necessary," Inge said.

He said the benefit for shoppers is as simple as them not having to queue for a manned checkout, and instead, seeing that a self-checkout terminal is available.

"It's all about the perception...allowing consumers to scan their own products instead of queueing gives them the perception that they are in control.

"I fully expect this technology to be part of consumer life within the next six months," he said.

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