360 Degree Scanning - Saving Time, Adding Value

A UST Global Contributed Article — August 27, 2015


Discussing recent developments in retail, McKinsey Global Institute partner Michael Chui observes, “When checkout is working really well, it will feel like stealing.”

The new 360 scanner, however, could make checkout feel less like stealing and more like a quick chat with a friend.

Also called the “portal” or “tunnel” scanner, the 360 scanner is poised to replace the tedious intermittent beeping of the traditional checkout process with a smoother, swifter experience. Equipped with more than 20 cameras to read each item’s barcode, the system works quietly and efficiently, capturing all barcodes in 98% of checkout scenarios tested while tallying the bill in half the time of the old conveyer belt system. The new technology promises fewer beeps and faster service.

While this technology could benefit retailers through efficiency gains and labor cost reductions, it may yield a different form of value, too. By refocusing employees’ attention on the customer and restoring conversation to the purchasing process, it could build customer loyalty at the same time it improves work conditions for employees.


360 Scanning Advantages

Employee health and safety

Today, of course, a cashier (or the customer) has to pick up each product and scan it at a fixed scanner scale or with a hand scanner. This repetitive physical act can have medical consequences for cashiers and compensation consequences for the retailer.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 2004 “Guidelines for Retail Grocery Stores” cites “back injuries and sprains or strains that may develop from various factors, including lifting, repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or injuries resulting from overexertion.” However, it notes, “injury prevention efforts … have successfully reduced work-related injuries and workers' compensation costs.”

Checkstand design is listed as one of these efforts. By replacing a standard scanning set-up with a 360 scanner, though, retailers could leapfrog past checkstand redesign by removing the cause of the problem in the first place: the twisting and lifting required of physical scanning. This technological upgrade could drastically reduce repetitive stress for cashiers.


Loss prevention and quality control

Retailers are familiar with the profit losses that come from operator error. Cashiers who are stressed or rushed may miss items on the belt or think they’ve heard that telltale “beep” of the scanner when they haven’t. This is particularly true in cases of large-scale orders and high volume retailers in general.

The 360 scanner enhances loss prevention in two ways: first, it removes user error from the equation, relying on 24 sets of eyes (those mounted cameras) instead of one. In the event that a product eludes scanning even under these 360-degree circumstances, the machine flags an image of the product that wasn’t scanned, allowing the cashier to scan it manually. Second, and more broadly, the data about those problem products can be analyzed to yield critical information for process improvements. In the case of an item that regularly goes unscanned, for instance, the retailer could contact the manufacturer to say they need to improve its product label placement.

The implications of this data gathering are significant: instead of today’s grainy video of a checkout interaction, the 360 scanner generates specific data regarding every item that goes through the scanner—including images. If retailers compare the keylog with the image of each product, they can identify quality control issues and improve cashier performance.


Improving satisfaction

Because the requirement for handling the products is minimized with the 360 scanner—reduced from 100% of the products to less than 5% percent—cashiers can spend more of their time assisting and conversing with the customer, providing that invaluable face-to-face time.


360 scanning in the present

These scanners are in place in various locations in Europe as well as in ten checkout lanes in three or four large grocery stores in the U.S.

In one of these pilot locations, the retailer’s “taskforce management team,” which does staff scheduling and supports employee productivity, didn’t know about the new technology being implemented. In their regular review of timing across the stores one week, they were completely flummoxed: what was causing this phenomenal increase in items per minute through these terminals? What’s changed? And their first thought was actually that their tracking system was malfunctioning. They soon learned that the vast increases were the result of 360 scanning.


The future of 360 scanning

A next generation checkout technology, called Wiper, is currently being developed; Wiper would perform product recognition based on images alone—bypassing yet another mediating factor, the barcode

Self-checkout as assembly line: customers place their items in the 360 scanner then proceed to the next station for bagging and payment

Tailoring store operation procedures to these enhanced capabilities



For customers, the recent history of the checkout experience has had its ups and its downs: with every presumed time-saving measure, there seems to be more hassle, too. In self-checkout, for example, think of the disgruntled assistant who helps you “clear item from bagging area.” Employees, too, are frustrated about the increasingly limited time they have to connect with customers. In one quiet sweep, the 360 scanner could bring these two groups back together.