Self-checkout is Changing Retail Industry – Interview with Hanwha Techwin

In a world where people are becoming more conscious of their safety, some only leave their house for grocery shopping. Self-checkouts have been around for a time, yet some still struggle to operate them. Express checkouts can turn into traffic jams of frustrated customers, waiting for shop assistants to fix the customers’ errors, and playing Jenga on small, weighted platform. However one company in South Korea, Hanwha Techwin, is trying to clear the waiting aisles of the future with the next level in self-automated technology for customers. Let’s examine how self-checkout is changing the retail industry.

We sat down with Andy Lee, Team Leader of Vision solution business team at Hanwha Techwin, to dig in more into trends in retail solutions.

Tell us about your Automate Checkout Solution (ACO) and its key benefits for retail stores and shoppers.

Hanwha’s Auto Check Out is an automatic product recognition payment machine. This product was created to solve the hassle of existing inconvenience that consumers find with barcodes on products and using barcode readers. By simply placing the purchased product on a conveyor belt, it automatically finds the barcode printed on the product. Our ACO products can help customers reduce the time to spend searching for product barcodes, by putting all products on the conveyor and focus on payment.

We have seen cashier-free counters in many stores before (in Korea E-mart, Home plus etc.); how is your ACS a game changer?

Current self-service counters are directed towards small-volume buyers, however many choose to use self-checkout regardless. Finding barcodes on every product purchased is very time-consuming; customers are not skilled cashiers, so they can’t find barcodes in products’ various locations quickly, and as a result, customers who have purchased multiple products become tired of using self-checkout counters. Additionally, in large markets, self-checkouts are often underutilized because customers usually make large purchases. However, using ACO with minimal customer inconvenience will be an optimized alternative for large supermarkets and wholesale retailers.

Where do you expect this technology will be implemented first?

Of course, we consider offline stores as the first to adopt our technology. ACO is built using industrial barcode recognition technology to ensure superior recognition rates. Industrial barcode recognition technology is more accurate than the technology used in current self-checkout counters, but its enormous and mechanical appearance has only been used for limited industrial use. However, ACO is a product with an elegant user-friendly design and user convenience that can be used by general consumers. In addition, in order to provide a more convenient payment service, we are developing small models that can be used in convenience stores and H&B stores, as well as bigger models that can handle large products found in warehouse stores.

How do you see the retail sector changing as these types of automated solutions continue to make an impact?

Due to online and delivery services, the number of customers visiting offline stores is decreasing. However, the reason for the existence of offline stores is clear, and it improves the operational competitiveness of Omni-channel retail. A recent study in the United States also shows that while the frequency of visits by customers has decreased, the number of purchases per customer has increased. This is because customers who purchase fresh foods and ingredients make decisions once they check the condition of the product in person.

Stores with low frequency of customer visits will prefer automated devices to additional staff for payment. It is one of the goals of many self-checkout counters. However, the latest trend of increasing purchases per customer points to the demand for ACO technology to meet the needs and convenience of customers.

Do you expect all types of retailers to benefit from these types of automated solutions or are you focusing mainly on the larger retailers and supermarkets?

We believe that automation solutions for the retail industry have different needs and strategies for large and small stores. Large stores want to introduce automation solutions like ACO. Automated services such as on-site pick-up service, customer information, and card readers will help to improve profitability by reducing store operating costs in the long term. Global retailers are strategically conducting a lot of research and investment for such automation system. The demand for small stores is ‘unmanned’. They want to create additional sales through a safe unmanned operation at night with few visiting customers. However, a convenient unmanned solution of this kind requires some more research development and trial errors, which will take some time for them.

ACO covers all fields, large and small. The current model is a payment automation solution for large stores, and a smaller type for small stores is also under development. ACO is the beginning of an automation solution, and furthermore, it will evolve into a safe unmanned system through flexible interworking with Hanwha Techwin’s security solutions.

When and where can we see ACS in action, and how can other global retail giants get their hands on these systems?

It has already been in operation in real stores for 6 months and has completed customer testing, and the improved model will be in operation in two domestic stores by the end of this year. After completing the test, we will officially launch our commercial model next year. The ACO can be demonstrated at any time at the headquarters of Hanwha Techwin. You can also visit the customer store in person in December. For overseas customers, we can also deliver our demo video. (If you share your information, we can deliver it directly.)

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

According to a recent article report, Korea is the safest country in the world and is also the most suitable country for unmanned operations. This is down to the fact that the theft rate in South Korea is very low. The most worrisome part of introducing unmanned stores is the concern about various forms of loss prevention related to theft and loss of products. Fortunately, such things are minimized in Korea, but there are cases in which other countries where losses will be suffered without loss prevention. To compensate for this, we are developing a variety of solutions, such as CCTVs that monitor theft and public view monitors (PVMs) that prevent customers from behaving abnormally, and solutions that determine the existence of unrecognized/unpaid products in the cart. Especially, in the case of products for overseas, these security solutions are a basic necessity.

Keep your eyes open the next time you visit a grocery store – Bangkok, Seoul or Tokyo – maybe in near future you’ll bag up your shopping with Hanhwa’s ACO, self-checkout is changing retail industry fast!

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