Tesco follows M&S in trial of self-scanning checkouts

Tesco will next week become the first UK supermarket to begin trials of self-scanning checkouts, in an attempt to improve...

Tesco will next week become the first UK supermarket to begin trials of self-scanning checkouts, in an attempt to improve customer service levels - a key differentiator in the fiercely competitive grocery retail market.

The move, which comes a month after Marks & Spencer launched a similar trial, could prove to be a test case for the emerging technology, which has already achieved significant success in the US, analysts said.

Jacqui Hendriks, research director at analyst firm GartnerG2, said self-scanning checkouts will be a key area of IT development for retailers in the next two years.

"Self scanning checkouts can help to beat queues and improve inventories, if they are properly linked with back-end systems," Hendriks said. "Retailers will be learning from Tesco and each other, but if they are to compete head to head they need to differentiate."

Tesco will be trialling two different self-service checkouts, from suppliers NCR and PSI, at stores in Leamington Spa and west London, until March.

The tills, which link into Tesco's electronic point-of-sale system, are programmed to recognise the barcode and weight of every product in the store. They incorporate software that is designed to detect any inconsistencies between what is scanned and what is in the package.

The payment process, meanwhile, will be similar to a vending machine, with customers able to pay with cash, credit or debit cards and given the option of cashback, the retailer said.

Colin Cobain, UK IT director at Tesco, said customer workshops convinced the company that self-service checkouts would be a worthwhile investment. "Customers like it because it is fun and quick and they have control of what they are doing," he said.

"It means we can fit more checkouts into a smaller space," Cobain added, "and supports our 24 hour opening strategy because it means we can have more checkouts open through the night."

But there are IT challenges. "Because there is no downtime changing information on the checkouts has to be spot on," he said.

The project is purely about improving customer service, Cobain insisted. "This is absolutely about customer choice rather than a chance to cut down tills," he said.

Hendriks said self-scanning technology could boost the influence of IT departments in retail. "The retailer's IT department will have more of a direct effect on the consumer if technology is fully integrated," she said.

Read more on Business applications