The Need for Speed

POS enhancements are improving the in-store experience for customers.

The Need for Speed

August 2023   minute read

By: Jerry Soverinsky

In the fall of 1960, John D. C. Little, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published his seminal work on waiting behavior in retail stores. Presented in mathematical terms, “A Proof for the Queuing Formula” provides a straightforward formula for determining the average expected wait time per customer:

L ÷ λ = W

where L equals the number of customers already in line, λ equals the number of customers entering the line per minute and W equals the average waiting time in minutes.

Over the next 60 years, business executives referenced the straightforward formula mostly in descriptive terms. For instance, if we know that a store line averages a wait time of three minutes per customer, how can we maximize sales during that three-minute period? As a result, countless recommendations for impulse-buying strategies and line and register configurations were developed.

However, an unfortunate consequence of excessively long waiting times emerged: the abandoned cart. If waiting times grew too high, people simply left the store. During our smartphone-TikTok-5G speed era, the decision to bail has grown increasingly common with a contracting patience threshold.

“Long lines for payment checkout” was the number one pain point (60%) for shopping in-store according to a recent survey, far outdistancing out-of-stock products (48%), store disorganization (40%) and lack of help (26%). A Forrester study around the same time revealed that “shoppers will not hesitate to bring their business to a competitor for a better checkout experience.” And when it comes to convenience store shopping, 54% of respondents in a 2022 Bluedot survey said that they would leave and skip buying anything if there were just three or more people in a line.

“Speed is a competitive differentiator,” the Forrester study noted, before adding a recommendation: “Make fast checkout a competitive advantage.”

Easier said than done.

For many, the approach demands a renewed focus on labor—adding headcount to address increased traffic flow. But for an industry whose margins are already thin, such an approach is impractical, if not impossible, in today’s tight labor market. That has led retailers to consider back-end solutions for improvement, and building a better checkout solution has received increasing attention over the past several years from solutions providers.

Just Say Go

Checkout technology has come a long way since the introduction of barcodes in the 1970s, reaching a science fiction-like high point in 2018, when Amazon launched its Amazon Go concept. While revolutionizing the shopping experience with its cashierless Just Walk Out technology, the concept is available in roughly 50 stores today, hardly a ubiquitous offering. The company has begun licensing the technology, but at a high cost per store. That said, Amazon’s bold breakthrough has inspired a host of competitors and influenced the adoption of cashierless technology.

Continually heightened customer expectations demand a seamless and efficient checkout experience, one that delivers numerous retailer benefits, including enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty, along with increased overall sales volume. For some retailers, this means providing staff with more powerful scanning and payment hardware—not cashier-less technology. And for others, that means incorporating AI-powered tools to speed the self-checkout process.

Here is a look at two prominent offerings.

Seamless Integration (for Cashiers): National Retail Solutions

Founded in 2015 with a mission to support independent convenience stores and gas stations, National Retail Solutions offers a suite of tightly integrated technology-based products to help these small- and medium-sized retailers stay competitive. Centered around a point-of-sale system (NRS POS), the NRS platform includes capabilities to process digital payments, loyalty program discounts, fuel purchases, tobacco scan data and government ID scanning. The platform offers e-commerce capabilities, an employee time clock feature, cash advances and the opportunity to make bulk purchases of inventory and store supplies.

With a fully customizable loyalty offering, NRS POS empowers smaller retailers to gain equal footing with their larger competitors. “There are many challenges today for small, independent store owners who were already struggling to survive and balance operations [before COVID],” said Elie Katz, founder and CEO of NRS. “Technology has advanced to provide all forms of supportive services to help retailers organize and understand their business better, attract customers and increase revenue. The NRS POS offers integrated payment acceptance, e-commerce, customized loyalty programs, customer-facing advertising and more.”

To minimize downtime and disruptions, durability is the foundational feature of the NRS POS, according to the company. Additionally, with its clear and intuitive interface, cashiers can process transactions more quickly. “Store owners appreciate our durable hardware, particularly conducive in a fast-paced checkout environment with multiple users,” Katz said. “Our user-friendly POS system has one-touch buttons with customized categories and color coding, so that even a new cashier, for whom English may not be their native language, can easily understand and use the machine.”

“Long lines for payment checkout”was the number one pain point (60%) for shopping in-store according to a recent survey, far outdistancing out-of-stock products (48%), store disorganization (40%) and lack of help (26%).

NRS POS is now used in more than 20,000 stores in the United States, with a recent expansion into Canada. It comes pre-programmed with more than 50,000 pricebook items, which are easily customized via upload to an online merchant portal or by scanning at the register.

These back-end, time-saving functions free employees to allocate more attention to the customer, delivering a more efficient and satisfactory shopping experience. And for those tasks that involve regulatory compliance—verifying IDs and accepting EBT/eWIC—NRS POS can create less friction.

“The POS isn’t just a checkout tool. It’s a control panel for the retailer to manage operations and boost profits. With the customer-facing screen, it communicates with patrons as well,” Katz said. “And as e-commerce trends continue, adapting the point of sale for e-commerce integration is a high priority … by offering powerful technology and payment acceptance tools, we’re giving our retailers a stronger chance to succeed.”

Laying it All Out There (for Shoppers): Mashgin

Frustrated by cafeteria checkout lines that came to a stop during errant product scans, Abhinai Srivastava founded Mashgin Inc., a Silicon Valley tech startup that sought to build a better checkout process. “The challenge was the ability to ring things up at once,” explained Jack Hogan, SVP, strategic partnerships for Mashgin. “And for that we needed visual technology.”

Billing its touchless checkout system as “the world’s fastest self-checkout powered by AI,” Mashgin’s visual technology is truly convenient. Shoppers approach a Mashgin-powered checkout, dump their items on the counter, and Mashgin’s AI-powered sensors capture all the contents, calculating a total in seconds. “There’s no barcode scanning involved, it’s really just laying things down on a counter,” Hogan said. “And it truly makes the checkout experience more tolerable.”

Mashgin uses a variety of cameras that look at items from different angles, fostering what the company says is a 400% faster checkout process than traditional POS. “On average, it takes up to a minute to check out with a cashier, 90 seconds to perform a self-checkout, and as little as 10 seconds with Mashgin,” Hogan said. “That’s a direct speed benefit, which delivers an improved customer experience.”

Mashgin launched to the public in 2020, during a time when COVID led to employee shortages and shoppers were looking for a quicker, frictionless shopping experience. The product has matured significantly since its inception. Whereas it could only handle credit card transactions when it first launched, it can now handle cards, fuel and loyalty programs. “And after we checked off ‘loyalty’ on our to-do list, we added the ability to accept cash,” Hogan said.

Looking to provide a faster checkout experience at its games, BMO Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), deployed 12 Mashgin checkout systems in 2022. Mashgin delivered bottom-line improvements, with the average transaction time dropping to 12.5 seconds, 400% faster than other registers, with a 25% revenue boost.

“We are regularly surveying our fans, and they love how Mashgin lets them move through the lines so quickly,” said Christina Lau, chief technology officer for LAFC. “Concessions are always in high demand. Getting those lines moving means more fans can get their snacks without missing out on the action on the field.”

Couche-Tard signed an agreement last year to deploy 10,000 Mashgin checkout systems at 7,000 of its Circle K and Couche-Tarde stores, expanding an earlier agreement to deploy units at 500 Circle K locations. “We’re committed to investing in and scaling technology that sets a new standard for convenience with our customers and advances our mission to make our customers’ lives a little easier every day,” Magnus Tägtström, vice president, global innovation at Couche-Tard, said at the time. “The Smart Checkout system powered by Mashgin’s game-changing technology shortens lines, improves the customer experience and frees up our teams to focus on helping our customers. We look forward to introducing this new platform to stores across our network.”

Back to the Future

These are just two sample offerings, and the marketplace is filling with others. Those familiar with Face ID on their iPhone can look forward to biometric authentication in the checkout process, where a fingerprint, facial recognition or even voice recognition initiates payment.

Most POS systems aim to meet (or exceed) the growing expectations of shoppers, for whom convenience is of paramount importance. Retailers who figure out the best way to leverage these technologies in a way that aligns with their resources can expect significant value benefits, such as increased customer loyalty and improved operational efficiency, benefits that will enable them to thrive in a continually evolving retail landscape.

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Mashgin’s checkout system uses AI-powered sensors to calculate the customer’s total.

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Jerry Soverinsky

Jerry Soverinsky

Jerry Soverinsky is a Chicago-based freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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