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Kmart app gets points for rewards, but does not check out

A large sign at the entrance to the Astor Place Kmart in Manhattan proclaims that the app allows customers to scan their items while shopping and then hand their smartphone over to the cashier for checkout. However, when this reporter tried to do so the cashier said she had never encountered any customers who had the app, and she did not know how to check out the purchase.

“Self-checkout testing started at Kmart in October 2013 in one store and expanded to two additional stores in November 2013,” said a Kmart spokeswoman. “Kmart plans to roll out self-checkout testing to 50 stores by the end of the summer.

“The in-store experience allows Kmart members to use their own mobile device to scan the bar code of an item and place it in their cart using our ShopYourWay app,” she said. “When customers are finished shopping, the app generates a code that can be scanned by a Kmart associate to the POS.

“This code contains all of the items the member scanned into their cart.  The POS system captures all of the cart information and therefore speeds up the checkout process.  Since the app is tied to member’s ShopYourWay account, all of their Shop Your Way points and loyalty program information is updated without having to give any additional information.”

Rewards points
While the app failed to live up to its self-checkout promise, it did offer an instant 5,000 reward points, valued at $5 off a purchase made in the next week. Even though the app initially indicated that the user had no reward points accumulated, it actually unveiled the 5,000 “Surprise Points” when that area of the app was swiped.

The ShopYourWay app also lists “Deals of the Day” and allows users to search for products by department. It also has a search feature called “Shop’in” that promises to offer “personal deals, coupons and benefits relevant to you.”

However, when the user selected the local store in the Shop’in area and typed in “healthy food,” the app displayed downloadable coupons for jewelry and an outdoor playset.

“Retailers’ biggest problem right now is educating and empowering their employees,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, Miami. “How Kmart could decide to roll out a mobile app without asking its employees to give it a run first is beyond me. They should have been the first ones trained.  Its complexity would have been exposed at that time.”

A feature that allows users to scan bar codes or QR codes for product information functioned largely as promised, although some products with flexible packaging — such as a bag of vegetable crisps — were nearly impossible to scan. The scanner also returned a price of 1 cent for a tube of hand moisturizer that actually retailed for several dollars. The app also repeatedly gave error messages when attempting to scan products.

Other retailers, including Kmart rival Walmart and supermarket chains such as Stop & Shop in the Northeast, have been more aggressive in their implementation of mobile checkout. Walmart’s Scan & Go app feature allows users to check themselves out using their mobile phones in its self-checkout lanes, without cashier assistance (see story).

Training needed
While the cashier in this test run was unfamiliar with the self-checkout process, she was friendly and she did ask if the user would like to redeem the reward points using the phone. She also pointed out that the rewards would expire in a week.

“Many times, customers will need some help, and employees will need to be trained,” said Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey & Co.

He said he believes mobile checkout does have a future in bricks-and-mortar retail, whether it is done using a smartphone or a device provided by the store.

“When the process of payment can be executed seamlessly, it can be like stealing,” Mr. Chui said, citing the potential ability for shoppers to simply walk out the door with their purchases without visiting the cashier at all. “Mobile checkout in general holds the promise of transforming at least one part of the shopping experience.”

Final Take
Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York