Progressive Grocer Independent

OCT 2016

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October 2016 | Defining the Independent Market | 27 David Diamond is an independent consultant to leading retailers, manufacturers and service providers in the grocery industry. He can be reached at [email protected] store was able to open more lanes at lower cost. (In the early model, one cashier serviced four lanes, provid- ing help and processing payments.) Most importantly, however, customers didn't need to wait in line, addressing a big consumer concern. e problem was that the system didn't really work. Consumers didn't know how to scan items, some barcodes were unread- able, and the process of inputting non-barcoded items was beyond the comprehension of most consumers. Improvements Needed My recommendation to my client was also simple: is is a great idea, but significant effort would be needed to improve the system and make it ready for the world at large. To make a long story short, we made the investment, built the system and eventually sold it to IBM, which integrated it into many of its POS offerings. You can now find self-checkout lanes at many supermarkets around the country and the world. Most of us have even used one ourselves. My recent story is frighteningly similar. A few weeks ago, I was at LaGuardia LaGuardia Airport. e flight was at Airport. e flight was at 12:30 p.m., so I went to the food 30 12:30 p.m., so I went to the food p.m., so I went to the food court court to buy some lunch. I to buy some lunch. I made made my selections, and then my selections, and then headed headed to the checkout line, to the checkout line, where I found self-checkout machines, and guess what? ey still didn't work. e scanner had a hard time reading any codes at all; custom-made items came with a slip of paper that had the barcode on it, but it wasn't communicated to the customer that the slip of paper was what needed to be scanned. Certain items had pre-printed codes on the bags, bags, but you had to know but you had to know which item to put in which hich which item to put in which item to put in which bag. Shopping bags weren't ag. bag. Shopping bags weren't Shopping bags weren't easily within reach, and the payment options were opaque. What you had was five customers at five stations, each look- ing lost, while one attendant went up and down the row, es- sentially serving as the checker for all of us. Progress Needed Why do I tell these stories? e an- swer is simple: 25 years in, self-check- out stations are still not working as well as they should in all situations. What seemed in 1990 to be a set of simple technological changes needed to make a good idea work have proved to be difficult to solve indeed. In fact, over those 25 years, many stores have installed self-checkout lanes, become frustrated with the technological is- sues and limited consumer usage, and then uninstalled them. Self-checkout lanes aren't alone, however. In our day-to-day lives, we're surrounded by emerging technologies which are, in the words of "Saturday Night Live," not ready for prime time. How is this relevant to independent retailers? First, it's a reminder that a good idea isn't enough. A good idea needs to be well executed to be of value to consumers, and the seemingly minor executional elements can turn a great idea into a bad product. Some great ideas just happen, and do so ef- ficiently and effectively from the start — the technology is simple enough that as soon as you see it and experi- ence it, you know it and don't ever go back. e first time I bought an airline ticket over the internet was the moment I knew I was never going to set foot inside a travel agency again. Some ideas eventually become great, but take time. I recall my first cell phone — a 35-pound beast that required a full day to install in my car and provided service to basically no place at all. Now we all take for granted a cell phone that weighs a few ounces, slips into a pocket easily and works in most places. But it took a long time and many generations of phones and sys- tems before this was true. And some ideas never become great — they just run out of gas. When to Invest Self-checkouts are being used in stores, but the technology is still deeply flawed. Will the next few years prove that it really is the technology of the future? Continually improving technology, along with continuously rising wage rates, tells me that it prob- ably will be. Independent retailers, with small or nonexistent IT departments and fewer locations, need to know when technology is truly ready for prime time. How long will this take? When will it be ready to use without too much human intervention? When will the technology be in place to en- able a simple, easy-to-understand self- check process? ese are the questions that need to be answered. My guess is that the time for self- checkouts will come sooner rather than later, and indepen- dents will need to be ready to jump. PGI In our day-to-day lives, we're surrounded by emerging technologies which are, in the words of "Saturday Night Live," not ready for prime time.

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