Walmart’s Scan & Go

Against my wishes, I had to transact some business at my local Walmart today and experienced their new Scan and Go system. Walmart, with a massive labor force and a frequent target of labor activists, is usually at the forefront of technology innovations that seek to mitigate their labor costs. As a secondary goal, they are trying to improve the customer experience. Here’s how it went for me:

Upon entering the store, a guy explained the system to me. Here’s the process:

  • Get one of their scanners or download their scanning app on your phone.

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  • As you go through the store, scan the items as you put them in the cart. The carts also have packs of plastic bags mounted in the front, or you can buy their reusable bags.
  • When it’s time to check out, use the same scanner to scan a bar code on the self-checkout machine. That transfers all of the items to the self-checkout machine.
  • Pay.
  • Return the scanner to a charging station on the way out.

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Overall, I really liked the process. It was easy to use. I could see the running tally of my purchases and verify the scanned price matched the posted price. I spent less than a minute actually checking out. I was buying some heavy stuff and I didn’t have to lift anything out of my cart. It was a quick, easy process.

It might be a different experience if you are buying produce or anything else that needs to be weighed. But for the vast majority of things, I preferred this process to a human cashier or a traditional self-checkout station.

There is a lesson here. A free market will constantly evolve and respond to pressures. In this case, the upward pressure on wages – both artificial and real – coupled with the increasing desire of customers to be empowered by technology in their consumer experience, is driving innovation like Walmart’s Scan & Go system. I doubt it’s the last incarnation of the technology-enabled purchasing process, but it’s a good system so far.