Is RFID the solution to self-checkout hurdles in retail?

Opinions differ about self-scanners of goods in retail, both among consumers and experts. Some are fans because they reduce contact with sales staff and are generally faster, while others find them a source of frustration. Shoplifting is also lurking at self-scanning checkouts, which experts believe is actually a growing problem.

While self-scanning has primarily been introduced in grocery stores and some drugstores, it is also becoming increasingly common in fashion and sports stores. Take Uniqlo and Decathlon for example. At the Japanese fashion chain and the French sports retailer, customers no longer have to scan items – they simply place them in a container, whereupon the details of all the items appear on the screen in no time. Now all you have to do is pay and you’re done.

Self-scan or not? Thanks to RFID technology, things are now even smoother at Uniqlo and Decathlon

Self-service checkouts use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). This means that customers no longer have to manually scan barcodes one at a time, but rather the computer scans the RFID labels when the items are placed in a container. RFID antennas have been installed within the self-service checkouts to facilitate self-scanning, a Uniqlo spokesperson told FashionUnited.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology that allows objects to be identified wirelessly as data is transmitted using radio waves. For it to work, you need an RFID chip (in this case in the clothing hangtag) and an RFID reader (in the cash register system).

A Decathlon spokesperson added that RFID technology is not always error-free. “Sometimes a product will not be scanned at the checkout if, for example, the RFID radiation is blocked by existing materials. If a product is not paid for, alarm bells go off.” Employees at the checkouts then check which item has not been paid for so that payment can still be made.

According to Decathlon, the RFID system has made it easier to prevent theft. “In the situation ‘I have two identical items, but I only scan one’, it is of course noticeable if customers intentionally leave an item outside the container.” The sports retailer also says that the staff working at the self-checkout is trained to deal with thefts, pointing out that they are not always committed intentionally, but also because the RFID waves can be blocked.

According to Uniqlo, the system reduces waiting times at checkouts by around 50 percent. For those unfamiliar with the system, staff are always available to help customers. For Decathlon, the self-scanning system is also important to promote the “openness” the store strives for by allowing people to enter and exit the store easily.

Is self-scanning in fashion stores the future?

Hans van Tellingen, director of shopping center researcher Strabo and often quoted in the media as a retail expert, is cautiously positive. “That sounds pretty comfortable. “I think it’s an improvement that you don’t have to scan every item yourself,” he emphasizes. “In addition, with RFID in the shopping cart, the responsibility lies with the retailers and not with the consumers who scan themselves. You are then no longer liable.” Van Tellingen also sees this as something positive. “With other self-scanning checkouts, you still feel like you’re a thief when you’re asked to come out for a check. Now the responsibility for properly scanning products falls on retailers.”

Van Tellingen also points out that technological innovations cannot always be implemented in all businesses in the long term. Or maybe not in the way people expect. For example, the self-checkout system with RFID can also be used to make life easier for cashiers.

“That way you still have human interaction and someone can answer questions if needed, but RFID improves efficiency,” he says. He points out that technical innovations are good, but that doesn’t mean that they can be implemented one-to-one in stores. “Perhaps a scaled down version of this will be introduced, or there will always be the option to pay with human interaction.”

This article originally appeared on Translated and edited by Simone Preuss.