Mobile Checkout Gains Momentum in Europe

OKay convenience stores in Belgium allow customers to scan items and pay right from their smarthphones.

Line-free mobile checkout technology is gaining momentum in retail, especially in the grocery category. Earlier this year, Belgian-based Colruyt Group, launched the ‘Scan.Pay.Go.’ app that enables their shoppers to use their phones to scan and pay for their purchases in selected OKay convenience stores.

The family-owned company, which also operates the Dats 24 gas station brand in Europe, has operations in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

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Kristof Schraepen, digital transformation manager at Colruyt Group, sat down with Convenience Store Decisions to discuss the program and how it works.

CSD: What are the most important features a C-store should seek in a mobile checkout solution?
KS: Three key elements are integration, UX (User Experience), and support. The first thing is integration. A mobile checkout solution should be fully integrated with legacy systems. Checkout is such a basic feature of a C-store chain that mobile checkout should, technically, be a logical extension of “normal” checkout. “Off the shelf” mobile checkout products often fall short in this category. Number two, with UX, even though there’s a lot of high-tech involved, the focus should be on making the whole solution actually appear low-tech. For example, a scale should look like a scale, not like a computer. And finally, support. The perfect mobile checkout solution does not exist (yet), therefore, all attempts at mobile checkout will require continuous focus of all involved partners and the support of an experienced project team.

CSD: How did OKay first become involved with FutureProof Retail (FPR)? How did the relationship begin?
KS: Colruyt Group (the overarching organization grouping shopping formulas such as Colruyt, Spar and OKay) decided to develop and implement a mobile shopping app that customers can use for self-scanning and self-checkout capabilities. The motivation was to save customers more time and enhance their shopping experience.

CSD: What benefits have you reaped as a result of this implementation? What benefits are foreseen down the road?
KS: We see that we’re able to deliver a new service to our customers. They can bag items immediately after scanning them. If there’s no need for a bag check, they can load their bag directly into the trunk of the car without unloading and reloading it at the POS terminal. Customers appreciate the fact they see their shopping cart total in realtime, and this feature does not seem to affect basket size. In addition to saving customers time by letting them do more for themselves and avoid waiting in a checkout queue, the self-scanning mobile app also frees up employees who would otherwise operate traditional POS terminals. And, saving time for our staff is essential, so they can focus on other value-added activities in the store.

Moreover, it is clear that this kind of pilot project sparks new initiatives in Colruyt Group, relating to smart scales, internet-connected exit gates, fully digital receipts and many more. Compare it with the trickle-down effect, when you have Formula 1 racing technology eventually finding its way into stock road cars.

CSD: What were some of the challenges facing this implementation? How did OKay and FPR work to alleviate those challenges?
KS: The most difficult changes come from outside of our project’s scope. They included physical limitations to 3G/4G and WiFi – In certain areas of the store, we depend on our store’s WiFi network, and trust that all users can get easily connected. This is not always the case. FutureProof Retail has provided best practice examples, so we maximize communication in the app –and in the store- to get users connected as fluently as possible. Another challenge was mobile payments. This is our first experiment with mobile payment, with an “online” provider.

In Belgium, debit cards are used much more than credit cards, and this makes the online payment process much lengthier. Futureproof Retail has been very flexible in implementing this means of payment for us, deep-diving into the details, and, as we covered in the first question, they are providing continuous support in making the process faster and smoother.

CSD: Does OKay have any plans to do more or expand with FPR?
KS: We’ve actually expanded the scope of our initial pilot once before, when adding 4 OKay C-stores to the initial 4 Spar stores. A new scope expansion was approved to allow further experimentation. So far, it’s still in the pilot phase. Before expanding to a large number of additional stores, we’ll just need to make certain all parts of the solution we’ve built can withstand the full pressure of our commercial environment.