Queue busting: Is AI the answer?

October 11, 2019 17:00
With visual recognition technology, customers can place their purchases on a Circle K self-checkout counter and pay with Octopus card. Photo: YouTube

The checkout process has remained unchanged for decades and stands as a significant pain point for both customers and retailers in Hong Kong – as long lines and weary staff all too often lead to lackluster customer interactions.

Convenience and efficiency are often cited as the top two criteria by most people when it comes to shopping. According to the “Hong Kong Unified Commerce Market Report” by 451 Research, nine in 10 Hong Kong shoppers have walked out of a store due to long queues. This represents a hidden cost to Hong Kong retailers - amounting to losses estimated at US$2.35 billion in 2018, according to the study.

Now, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) playing a role in retail strategy, both Hong Kong brands and retailers are finding the means to limit reliance on the traditional checkout process and enable an enhanced brand experience. Anyone curious about how AI is transforming the checkout experience can find a fascinating glimpse of retail’s future at Circle K in Causeway Bay which hosts the city’s first AI retail checkout solution.

Circle K’s AI-enabled solution allows customers to complete their checkout in just four seconds via three simple steps. With the visual recognition technology, customers can place their purchases on the checkout counter. Items are automatically scanned, and payment is allowed by Octopus card. The solution is extremely time-efficient, with the checkout counter being able to recognize up to five products within just one second with an accuracy rate of 97 percent, reducing checkout time by 30 percent.

In a world where shoppers demand their retail experience be personal, convenient and tailored, AI helps merchants make the experience quick and pleasant by enabling customers the choice to self-serve. For Circle K the ability for shoppers to serve themselves efficiently and leave quickly elevates the overall brand experience and helps strengthen customer engagement and loyalty.

A new level of convenience and productivity

In addition to retail, merchants in Hong Kong spanning F&B, fashion, hospitality and aviation are increasingly looking to offer customers a more efficient and fluid shopping experience by responding to fast-changing expectations. To do this they are offering enhanced in-store experiences, developing new channels of engagement and exploring ways to facilitate checkouts and break up lines, providing greater overall service efficiency.

Quick service restaurants (QSRs), in particular, are ramping up their ability to offer customers convenient self-service. Genki Sushi in Hong Kong, for instance, recently introduced kiosks and smartphone ordering to improve customer satisfaction and service levels. With diners placing their orders on their smartphones, the data collected can then be converted into insights to drive decisions for cross-selling or improving the overall user experience. The streamlined ordering process and shortened queue at peak hours allows restaurants to boost their table turnover rate and revenue.

The touch aspect of self-service kiosks also makes the ordering process more interactive and fun. According to the “Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services”, research has shown that the intention to purchase using a touchscreen differs from other means as it triggers a more ‘experiential buying’ feeling in consumers. This means it relies more on impulse buying than the rational thinking they would use in a more thought-out purchase.

AI, kiosks and mobile ordering are all set to play a critical role in transforming Hong Kong’s retail landscape. While some of the more tech-heavy options might not be right for every brand, retailers looking for a competitive edge are jumping on the opportunity to kill the queue.

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President, Adyen Asia-Pacific