Check out circa 1945.  Note the convenient carts stacked to the cashiers’ left—no jammed wheels in the good old days.

Last March Mal-Mart’s CFO, Charles Holley, announced plans to build additional self-checkout lanes for the convenience of shoppers.  Only about one-third of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in the US have the self-checkout option.

Other retailers are unhappy with the results of their traditional self-checkout lanes.  Albertsons LLC and IKEA group are eliminating the systems, citing lost revenue, theft and lack of interaction with customers.

In early September, Wal-mart offered its employees an incentive of $100 + a $25 Wal-Mart gift card to try out Scan and Go, the latest innovation from its Silicon Valley tech shop, @WalMartLabs.

Wal-Mart will video participating employees for an hour at the Bentonville, Arkansas, supercenter as they use smart phones to scan prices of items as they put them in their carts.  Employees then proceed to a kiosk and pay for the purchases.

The purpose of the experiment and video is to give Wal-Mart real-time feedback from real people regarding the user-friendly features of the new checkout system.

Long term, the system will save the store $12,000,000 for every second cut from the checkout process in the US.

Because the super-retailer doesn’t issue discount cards to customers to collect information about shopping habits, analysts say Wal-Mart’s in-aisle mobile-scanning program could work as a loyalty program, which has been effective in attracting and retaining shoppers in other stores.

“If you scan an item of peanut butter and immediately a two-dollar-off coupon pops up to buy a competing brand’s peanut butter, Wal-mart can change customer’s behaviors right there in the aisle, “said Evan Schuman, who runs the retail tech blog, StorefrontBackTalk.

Other retailers are already experimenting with more sophisticated methods of payment.  PayPal closed a deal with Discover earlier this year to offer an in-store payment system already accepted at thousands of retailers, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Barnes & Noble and Jamba Juice.

Sources:  Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2012    Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2012

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