Woolworths to offer checkout-free service using app to scan, buy products

An increased offering of checkout-free self-service when paying for your groceries could be a consideration for the future of Australian supermarket giant Woolworths post-coronavirus.

An exclusive report by the Australian Financial Reviewrevealed along with checkout-free buying, digital assistants and widespread online shopping have all been put on fast forward as consumers’ appetite for digital options increased “by years” because of the pandemic.

Managing director of the store’s WooliesX digital innovation division, Amanda Bardwell, told the publication the company had seen lasting changes in consumers’ willingness to embrace digital channels.

Ms Bardwell said social distancing concerns had spurred more customers to take part in its trials in some stores of contactless shopping, where items are scanned with a mobile app and paid for without interacting with a checkout.

With the app, customers are able to scan products with their smartphone as they walk through the store and pay in the app before tapping off at a kiosk in the self-serve area or dedicated Scan&Go lane.

App users must be Woolworths Rewards members and need to upload an accepted credit or debit card within the app.

A Woolworths spokesman told news.com.au that Scan&Go, similar to what happens at Amazon Go stores in the US, is in place in 15 of Woolworths’ 1000 Australian stores, and is used in conjunction with existing payment methods like self-serve and face-to-face check-outs.

The first Scan&Go trial began in Sydney’s Double Bay store in September 2018.

He said while rolling out the feature in more stores than those in NSW and Victoria would be based on how trialling goes, there wasn’t a firm timeline, and it wouldn’t replace any existing features because customers still value physically paying with cash or card and interacting face-to-face with staff.

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“We’ve certainly seen an increasing number of customers wanting a contactless experience where possible in our stores, and that extends to everything from tap and go with their loyalty, credit and debit cards, to the Scan&Go trials,” Ms Bardwell told AFR.

“In the stores where we are currently trialling Scan&Go, there’s certainly been an increase in the number of customers who’ve taken it up over the last couple of months, and we think that’s a really interesting trend for us to watch, which will in fact accelerate.”

WooliesX chief digital technology officer Nick Eshkenazi said the app was part of the WooliesX plan to deliver a “more connected” experience for customers inside stores and at home, where they could start planning and shopping remotely before turning up in store, or shop easily without entering a store.

“We know customers are walking through the store, doing their shop with their mobile device in their hand and with an app open on it so they can search products and compare prices,” he said.

“We have added features where you can find a specific product in a particular aisle while you’re in a store, and lead them to where it is. So we believe that will continue to evolve and continue to see a wider adoption of that capability and solution where the mobile app becomes the virtual assistant to your shop at all times.”

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Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said in April that despite enormous challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the retailer had brought forward digital and e-commerce investments by up to two years and condensed over a year of effort into just eight weeks “to come out of this as a stronger business than we went in”.

“What the crisis has done is really forced us to pull forward a whole series of investments into this year – investments we were planning to make in the next 24 months,” Mr Banducci told IT News.

“Literally the creativity and productivity we got in the e-commerce space in the last eight weeks is well over a year’s worth of effort, and that’s because we all leaned in, and it was all driven by a noble cause, primarily looking after vulnerable Australians and New Zealanders, which is pretty amazing and energising.”

The supermarket chain was forced to temporarily suspend its online services at the height of Australia’s coronavirus outbreak to all customers except vulnerable members of the community, but resumed regular operation on April 22.

Mr Banducci said that the retailer had emerged from the pandemic with “a much larger online customer database”.

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