NSW-based The Party People has become one of the first Australian retailers to embrace checkout-free stores, with the launch of a ‘scan & go’ app at its Halloween-themed pop-up at Sydney’s Paddy’s Markets in Haymarket on Thursday.
After downloading an app called Tilly and inserting their credit card details, customers can use their smartphone to scan the items they want to purchase and check out on their own, without needing to wait in a queue or ask a salesperson for help.
Pop-up staff currently are manually checking customers’ receipts to ensure they have scanned and paid for all the items in their basket before leaving, but a feature that allows retailers to report problem customers means this may not be necessary in future.
The Party People’s ‘chief party dude’ Dean Salakas told IR that a soft launch on Wednesday saw three people successfully use the app to scan and pay for items on their own.
“One question I got asked was whether it was safe, so there was a little bit of apprehension,” he admitted, “but it went off without a hitch.”
In the footsteps of giants
Unlike Amazon Go stores in the US, the Party People’s checkout-free pop-up doesn’t involve hundreds of cameras and sophisticated weight sensors to detect what customers have put in their basket. The lower cost and relatively simple integration of the app with the company’s inventory system – Salakas said it took less than two weeks, which he thought was impressive given the number of SKUs his business has – provides a blueprint for how this technology could be rolled out to more stores in future.
Indeed, compared to the companies that have followed in the footsteps of Amazon Go so far, such as Woolworths, which is trialling scan & go technology at its Double Bay supermarket, and Alibaba, which ditched the checkout at its Hema supermarkets, The Party People is a much smaller family-run retailer, with an annual turnover in the single-digit millions.
Salakas was inspired to trial the technology after seeing a video demo of the Tilly app, developed by a Sydney-based technology company, on LinkedIn. An early adopter of e-commerce and digital marketing, Salakas is always on the lookout for the next retail innovation and jumped at the chance to be one of the first retailers in Australia to trial checkout-free stores.
“I don’t think anyone is really up to speed with what’s happening in the scan & go space in Australia,” he said.
Increased sales and basket size
Depending on the customer response over the weekend, Salakas is considering offering ‘scan & go’ payment options at more pop-ups and other activations in future, but he is still ironing out the benefits for the business. Unlike supermarkets, specialty retailers like The Party People aren’t necessarily looking for efficiency gains, Salakas said.
“We’re looking to improve the customer experience more than save on efficiency,” he explained, describing a scenario in which staff could roam more freely around the store to help and advise customers.
Salakas does expect the app to increase sales and basket size, especially in the lead-up to peak trading periods like Halloween, when long queues at The Party People’s two bricks-and-mortar stores often result in customers literally abandoning cart.
“People do dump stuff. You see them throw product to the side and walk off because they’re too impatient to wait, and there’s nothing we can do,” Salakas said.
“We’re running extra checkouts and we still can’t serve them fast enough.”