A 20th anniversary gift - Saying goodbye to the “unexpected item in the bagging area”

By : Dusty Lutz

January 12, 2018 01:00 PM

If you tell people you work with self-checkouts, the chances are you'll hear someone make a joke about having an 'unexpected item in the bagging area'. While we might roll our eyes at an old joke, it does illustrate how the technology has taken its place in our everyday society and pop culture.


It might be hard to believe, but this January marks 20 years since NCR VOYIX first entered the self-checkout market, and we've come a long way since then – from introducing our first self-checkout machine in 1997 to quickly becoming the market leader with offerings available in 39 countries today. And while I'm proud to have been able to participate in this evolution from the beginning, what’s really exciting for me is working alongside our customers every day as they make measurable, positive impacts on their business and take strategic steps to transform their stores.


From small starts to sea change
The first self-checkouts were bulky systems that took their design cues from ATMs and delivered a less-than-smooth experience – a far cry from the streamlined and intuitive solutions most shoppers are familiar with today. So it was understandable that there was some trepidation across the industry in adopting this new technology. But over time, what the ATM did in making fundamental changes to banking, self-checkout has similarly done for retail.



              From the first system to today’s design award-winning solution: self-checkouts have come a long way


In working with retailers across the globe for more than two decades, I have heard many of the same challenges from businesses both large and small when it comes to the in-store shopper experience:


  • Shopper frustration at long checkout lines
  • Inefficiencies at the front end
  • Missed sales from cart abandonment
  • Poor customer service
  • Excessive labor/overhead costs


Self-checkouts have been widely adopted as part of the in-store experience because they can help mitigate these issues. Our customers have moved the needle in key areas of their business by offering shoppers superior service, flexibility, and convenience, improving operations by right-sizing store staff and redeploying associates, as well as attracting new shoppers while retaining current ones. In an NCR-conducted study, we found that 31% of retailers now have more than half their baskets going through self-checkout. Further, 54% of retailers were able to increase throughput using self-checkout solutions and 76% have improved service with shorter, speedier checkouts.


What’s in it for consumers? 
As more and more consumers have become familiar with the technology, it has led to fundamental changes in the way we shop. How many times have you found yourself in a checkout line, casting envious glances at the fast-moving queue at the next checkout, while you’re stuck behind someone rummaging around in their purse for that last quarter?


There's still some debate about which model is faster, but the self-checkout model can certainly make people feel less stressed. Retailers in Europe especially value this benefit as it lets their shoppers go through the process at their own pace, without feeling under pressure to pay and pack their items faster because there's an impatient line forming behind them.


But what’s more, self-checkouts are now more than just a convenient way to speed up the shopping process - they've become a pop culture icon in their own right, for good or bad. As well as T-shirts with slogans showing variations of the famous slogan, you can buy children's toy versions of the devices.


And let me ask you: When was the last time you actually heard that now-famous voice warning of “unexpected items in the bagging area?” It's probably been a while, because self-checkout technology has improved immensely over the years, and is now more sophisticated than ever. Using advancements such as computer vision to reduce false alarms and other shopper interruptions, we are continuously driving toward a frictionless in-store experience. So the unexpected items warning will soon be a relic of the past.

What do the next 20 years hold?
The latest NCR self-checkout innovations include intelligent image scanners that can recognize items placed on the scanner, and offering a shortlist of suggestions instead of requiring customers to move through menus on the interface. This helps shoppers scan non-barcoded items such as fresh fruits and vegetables even more quickly and easily. This same technology can help retailers reduce shrink due to “item swapping” theft. For example, if a shopper tries to place an expensive item like a bottle of wine on the scanner while entering a code to weigh it as less-expensive item (say, a bunch of bananas), the error is detected and the system alerts staff to intervene.


This is just one example of the progress we’re driving in self-checkout and rethinking the physical store overall. So as we mark the 20th anniversary of the NCR self-checkout, we’re pausing just a moment to celebrate this journey but mostly looking forward to the future as we work together with our retail customers to transform the shopping experience as the industry – and the shopper – evolves.


To get a glimpse of the innovations that we have lined up in self-checkout, visit us at NRF 2018 Retail’s Big Show at booth #3121 from Jan 14 to 16, 2018. I would be happy to meet you there and exchange anecdotes and insights with you.

Dusty Lutz

VP & GM, Store Transformation Solutions

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Dusty is Vice President and General Manager of NCR's Store Transformation business. In this role, he has global responsibility for bringing to market Store Transformation solutions across all Retail Industries and engaging with retailers around the world to improve the customer experience and gain operational efficiencies. NCR is the #1 global provider of Store Transformation solutions and Dusty led the team that introduced NCR's first Self-Checkout in 1998 and is considered the "father of self-checkout" at NCR.