Cashless shopping, technical triumph or threat

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Cashless shopping, it sounds so easy. You walk into the supermarket and register via an app on your mobile phone. You walk along the shelves, grab everything you need and walk out of the shop. The amount you have to pay is automatically debited from your account. Apart from the supermarket, you can also do this in a clothes shop or a DIY shop, for example. Is it really as simple as it sounds? How does it work and what do we think of it? In this blog we look at the advantages, disadvantages and practice.

How does it work, shopping without a cash register?

Cashless shopping is certainly not easy to achieve. A mega-company like Amazon has been working on it for years and is still in the testing phase. But first, let’s explain exactly how it works. The main ingredients for cashless shopping are sensors and cameras. As soon as you walk into the shop, you sign in with an app on your mobile phone. From that app you are identified. The same app ensures that the groceries you take out later are linked to your debit or credit card.

Cameras identify you on the basis of your height, width and size. Due to privacy laws, there is no facial recognition (although they do use it in China). The shop is extensively equipped with cameras and sensors on all shelves and racks. They detect and record every product you pick up and put in your basket or bag. Before you leave the shop, you sign out at a terminal and receive a (digital) receipt. You can then check that everything is correct, just like in any other shop.

It was once thought that RFID would make cashless shopping possible. But that did not succeed, because it proved too expensive and too complicated with the available materials. For example, packaging containing liquids or aluminium can interfere with RFID signals. To prevent this, you need special RFID tags. But these tags are too expensive for everyday shopping. With computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion we are almost there!

Mistake? Swap? Difficult to handle

The cameras and sensors signal that you are taking something. But of course they also have to detect that you put a product back. For instance, if you have taken brand A gingerbread but prefer brand B. When you have taken three bags of potatoes and put two back, because you also want to eat some pasta. It turns out to be technically very difficult to detect, store and implement this information, so that the receipt is ultimately correct.

Busyness is a challenge

Following on from mistakes and exchanges is a busy shop. Amazon opened a shop for its own staff in Seattle in 2018. By then, the company had been working for four years to improve the technology. In practice, they soon found out that crowded shops were difficult. Think of a busy supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. People reaching past each other, people reaching for the same carton of milk at the same time… and what about products that are almost the same? Like the variants of a brand of deodorant that are put back in the wrong place in the rush? The technology detected the jumble, but calculating all that data took so much time that it caused many errors.

AH has also opened a shop for its own staff at the head office in Zaandam. They want to investigate whether cashless shopping can be implemented in a number of AH shops in the coming years.

The benefits of cashless shopping

For the consumer, this solution offers great convenience. No more long queues and no cash register; just grab your stuff and walk out again.

The problem of shoplifting is minimal with cashless shopping. You only gain access to the shop after you have identified yourself with your app. And then everything you take is automatically debited from your account.

As a retailer, you need fewer staff. Sure, you have more costs for technology to realise a cashless shop, but people are also expensive. Moreover, you have less work scheduling staff, holiday planning, absenteeism, etc.

By the way, cashless shopping does not mean that there will be no staff in the shops at all. Who else is going to give advice on products, restock the shelves and exchange products? There will always be people who can help customers with questions.

The disadvantages of cashless shopping

A disadvantage of this technique is that both consumers and retailers are concerned about customer privacy. What is being recorded? What happens to our data? How secure is the information they have about us?

In fact, you can compare this new technique with a loyalty card. With the data linked to it, only your buying behaviour is known. With cashless shopping, no more information is recorded about you. Retailers with a cashless shop really cannot access your bank account. Only the prices of the products purchased can be settled.

Another disadvantage is that many people will miss the daily chat with the cashier. This is a sensitive issue in a society where loneliness is becoming an increasing problem. Surrounded by so much technology, are we going to lose the human contact in the shops?

Cashless shopping: we are eagerly awaiting it

At Dalosy, we don’t think it will be that fast. If the test phase is successful, there will certainly be a number of cashless shops. And everyone will be able to shop there without a care in the world. No one needs to be afraid of this change. We do not expect cashless shopping to be widely implemented in the next few years. And there will still be plenty of shops where you can do your shopping the ‘normal’ way. Technology will remain the biggest challenge for the time being. But technology is a wonderful development that we are eagerly awaiting.

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