DIY cashier counters the way to go
Singapore may be ready for Amazon Go-like concept in two to three years, says industry expert
From self-checkout counters to scan-and-go systems, supermarket chains are adopting different technologies to tackle the labour crunch and cut waiting time for customers.
NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong, Giant and Cold Storage may not be able to provide the Amazon Go experience yet - where customers grab items and leave, as purchases are charged to their cards through an app - but they have seen how technology can resolve their woes.
In December, Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in Seattle, which is being tested by its employees.
The retailer said the store will open to the public early this year.
In Singapore, Sheng Siong has started a hybrid self-checkout system in 15 of 42 outlets.
It will be rolled out to other outlets this year.
The regular system requires a cashier to scan, pack and collect payment from customers. Electronic transactions, such as Nets and credit cards, add a minute to the wait, during which, the cashier is unable to serve the next customer.
Sheng Siong's hybrid system cuts the need for cashiers to collect payment, which means they get to the next customer quicker. Customers are given the bill and they pay using a cash machine.
"The system is able to reduce a customer's waiting time by 30 seconds and give us 40 per cent manpower savings," a Sheng Siong spokesman said, adding that the scan-and-pack stations can substitute five traditional counters.
Cold Storage has also installed integrated self-checkout systems in 27 of 60 outlets, with expansion plans on the cards.
Shoppers scan, pack and pay for their grocery items at self-checkout counters.
"Cold Storage has reduced the number of cashiers needed per mid-sized store by about 44 per cent, and customer waiting time by 40 per cent," a spokesman said.
Designer Peter Fang, 48, is a fan of the self-checkout system.
He said: "Each time, I save about 10 minutes. It's easy to use and the queues are usually shorter."
Besides the self-checkout counters in 59 of its more than 130 outlets, NTUC FairPrice also introduced a scan-and-go system at its Fairprice Finest outlet in Bukit Timah Plaza in 2014.
Customers registered with a "Scan2go" card can collect scanners from the front and scan items as they shop. They then pay at dedicated cashier counters.
Ms Lian Lay Yong, FairPrice's senior director of business groups support, said the 100 scanners make up about 10 per cent of transactions at the store.
When The Straits Times visited the outlet last Thursday, there were about 20 customers using the system over half an hour.
Giant's hypermarkets have self-checkout and self-weighing stations, which the chain plans to introduce in its smaller outlets.
In two or three years' time, shoppers in Singapore may see an Amazon Go-like system, said Ms Angela Cheng, manager of the diploma in business management (retail and event management) programme at Nanyang Polytechnic.
She said this is due to the "infrastructure in place and the constant pursuit of training people in leading technologies".