Walmart has streamlined payment at checkout lines in its stores with Walmart Pay, but at its Sam’s Club warehouse stores, it’s speeding things up further with a mobile payment app that lets shoppers completely bypass the checkout line.

The latest version of Scan & Go, a mobile app Walmart has worked on for more than three years, went live last month at Sam’s Club, enabling customers to scan their own items as they shop and pay within the app, slowing down only to show their electronic receipt to an employee at the exit.

Although it’s only been a few weeks, the immediate results of Scan & Go are positive at the 655 U.S. Sam’s Club outlets, Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and CEO, said on Nov. 17 when discussing Walmart’s quarterly earnings.

“We’re pleased with the adoption of the service, and we’re excited about how it will improve our members’ experience—making it easy to shop and save time,” McMillon said.

A Walmart spokesperson said early indications show Scan & Go users like the app because it speeds up their shopping trip. Scan & Go users spend an average of 10% more in the store and nearly 80% of customers who try Scan & Go use it again within 90 days, the Walmart spokesperson added.

Image: Bloomberg News
Image: Bloomberg News

Analysts Scan & Go’s success foreshadows the day when many stores will enable processes to let customers scan and pay for their own merchandise in stores with apps that are linked to shopping lists that can be appended for additional mobile and e-commerce purchases, rounding out the concept of omnichannel marketing.

“We’re years away from seeing this type of self-scan, in-app payment experience become standard at multi-lane retailers, but what Sam’s Club is doing with Scan & Go demonstrates how even the big-box retailers want to Uberize payments where they can,” said Richard Crone, an analyst with Crone Consulting LLC.

Consumers are only too ready to skip the line, Crone pointed out. Starbucks has seen a huge surge of growth with its mobile order and pay feature.

Many consumers actually prefer to handle their own orders and payment because it gives them more time and control over the experience and enhances accuracy, Dunkin Donuts executives said last month at Money20/20 in Las Vegas, explaining the explosive success of its mobile order feature within its app.

To be sure, large supermarkets and big-box retailers like Walmart are nowhere near the point where they can eliminate checkout lanes yet, Crone said.

But stores already are putting strategies in place to protect against merchandise theft with self-checkout tools.

Sam’s Club excludes certain high-value items prone to theft from its Scan & Go app, including alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, pharmacy prescriptions and gift cards.

Technology also is rapidly evolving that can instantly corroborate items in a customer’s shopping basket with items paid for within the app before exiting the store, Crone said.

“Bluetooth low energy beacons installed in a store can interact with an app to verify payment,” he said, noting that most Walmarts and many other big-box merchants already have Bluetooth beacons installed to help customers navigate store aisles and locate merchandise via apps.

Retailers as a whole are shifting to embrace in-app payments, which could be the foundation for a move away from checkout lanes if more retailers evolve to apps that include technology for consumers to self-scan merchandise.

Two of the highest-profile examples of proprietary retailer apps enabling in-app payment within a store are Kohl’s Pay and CVS.

Starbucks recently reported that 7% to 10% of transactions are mobile order and pay, and Crone estimates that if current trends continue, more than half of all Starbucks orders could be mobile within five or six years.

When more than half of customers are ordering and paying through mobile devices, the space stores devoted to checking out will likely shrink, Crone said. “Starbucks and some other stores where you’re used to seeing lines will look more like the Apple Store, where people are walking in to pick up merchandise and paying in-app.”

Bentonville, Ark.-based tested a product scan-only version of the app a few years ago in some Walmart stores in 2013 before discontinuing it.

Walmart has not indicated whether it plans to expand Scan & Go to its 4,600 Walmart stores. "From an overall company perspective, it's early in the rollout of the app for Sam's Club, but as with all technology and innovation, the entire company will learn from it," the spokesperson said.

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