IBM is developing a new approach to transform the retail checkout and in-store experience. It starts with an ‘instant’ retail checkout system, which results in a better in-store experience for the customer. It then expands to include features that will change the way retailers run their business, making things more efficient and enabling them to offer a tailored experience to each of their customers automatically and on a hyper-local level. More than 130 customers have trialled the live environment in a Shell store in North London, with very positive feedback. The trial was designed to build both the retailer and the customer into designing the experience.

A patent has been filed to integrate the ‘Universal Tag’ – the smallest RFID that can be universally applied across products of different sizes without need for adaptation into an open retail system. This means that shoppers no longer have to look for or use barcodes to scan their items; they simply place their items, basket or bag onto a designated checkout and instantly all their items are detected. The customer opens the app on their phone and by tapping the reader on the checkout, completes their purchase in a single tap. It’s quicker than self-checkout barcode scanning, and due to IBM’s patent pending innovations, it’s more secure than paying in-store by any other means (e.g. chip and pin, contactless).

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From the retail/supply chain side, it also means that retailers will know what inventory they have in every store in real-time, as well as know exactly what customers are buying. This means stock can reorder itself when it’s running low, and deals can be targeted to individual customers in ways that are specific to the items they like and what’s in-stock nearby. This is a huge improvement over current practices where retailers send promotions to customers in ‘segments’ with offers they think they’d like, offering them deals on products that for some customers, their nearest store may have just run out of.

‘We see this as the next phase of barcode and a way of integrating digital experience into the physical store so that store associates can go back to serving the needs of customers beyond transactions, as well as managing merchandising and in-store strategy. As we all know, the current bar-code focused retail checkouts are functional but the customer experience can be varied!’ says Lindsay Herbert, inventor and digital transformation leader, IBM iX.