Canada

Retailers want to speed up the shopping experience, but it'll take time to change customers' habits

From self-checkouts to scanning groceries on your phone to automated towers that give you a package, retailers are testing out new technologies to make your shopping experience faster. But customers’ habits are slow to change.

Only 11 per cent of Canadians use grocery self-checkouts all the time, according to a recent study

Retailers are rushing to automate the shopping experience by adding technologies such as self-checkout. (CBC)

From self-checkouts to scanning groceries on your phone to automated towers that give you a package, retailers are testing out new technologies to make your shopping experience faster. But customers' habits are slow to change.

At Canadian Tire, customers can order something online and pick it up from a self-serve tower by scanning a barcode. It's one of only five in Canada, but Canadian Tire plans to assess how well the new pick up towers work and, if they're successful, make more of them available next year.

Canadian Tire is the first-ever Canadian retailer to put into market new, automated, self-serve pick-up towers for online purchases. (CNW Group/Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited)

Meanwhile, Loblaws launched a new app that could revolutionize the way we shop. Customers can avoid the checkout line by using the PC Express app to scan product barcodes as they add them to the shopping cart. The pilot is currently limited to eight locations in the Greater Toronto Area.

Self-checkout technology not without faults

Stacey Plowright says she often uses the self-checkouts to save time.

"I do use them, especially if the line is shorter because that is one of the conveniences is not a lot of people are using them, so you can get there quicker," said Plowright.

Stacey Plowright says offering an incentive or discount for customers who use the new technology could help ensure the success. (Jason Osler/CBC)

However, sometimes she makes a mistake like scanning the same product twice and has to make a change, which can set her back.

"I've encountered one, and I forget which store it was at, where it was smart enough to know that oh, I can reverse that," said Plowright. "So I can get rid of the transaction, but somebody still had to come over at the end and like approve it."

Hiccups and hassles like this could be why only 11 per cent of Canadians use grocery self-checkouts all the time, according to a recent study out of Dalhousie University, and more than half use self-checkouts occasionally.

The survey included 1,053 people and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Expert recommends companies work out the kinks before rolling out new tech

Heather Thomson is executive director for the School of Retailing with the Alberta School of Business. She says the low numbers in the survey results are likely because the technology can be inconsistent.

"We as shoppers are really impatient. So if the technology is gonna give us any kind of hiccups, usually we're done. We don't want to do it again. We ventured, we tried it, we went out of our comfort zone and it didn't work out. So what people will do is just revert back to their old habits."

Heather Thomson says shoppers are impatient and new technologies need to be hiccup-free to ensure customer buy-in. (Justine Milton)

Thomson says it's wise to test out new technologies in a limited way to work out the kinks beforehand.

"If you're gonna do the investment, make sure it is top of the line, best in the world, so people don't have the hiccups," said Thomson. "You do really only get one first impression with trying to convert your customers' old habits."

Still, customers seem to be open to the idea of new technologies. When asked if they thought self-checkout lanes are a good idea, 55 per cent of participants in the Dalhousie University study strongly or somewhat agreed, which suggests there is a desire for these types of tools, even with their potential pitfalls.

About the Author

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.