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GUEST COMMENT ‘Please wait for assistance’

Robot wars: time for a mix of people and machines?

In today’s digitally savvy world, retailers continue to innovate to enhance the customer experience – just think of Scan and Go apps, Walmart using AI to replenish low stock items, and Amazon Go.

While retail innovations are widespread, there is something all supermarkets have in common. Many of us are impatient customers who just want to pay and get home as quickly as possible, which is why grab and go food items, contactless payments and home deliveries have been so successful – they give us the ability to get our food shopping done in a quick and convenient way.

And who can forget about the self-checkout? Originally developed in the 1980s, it has reduced queues and waiting times, and given us greater choice and flexibility in how we shop. In fact, over half (57 percent) of UK shoppers are turning towards retailers who offer self-service options. Being able to walk into your local supermarket during a busy lunch break to pick up a sandwich and pay in a matter of minutes is ideal for time-poor shoppers.

However, despite their popularity, there are a handful of scenarios where the self-checkout actually slows down the checkout process. Imagine you’ve called into a supermarket on your way home to pick up a bottle of wine to have with dinner. There’s a queue at the staffed checkout so you decide to use the self-checkout as you’ve not got long before your train leaves. But as soon as you’ve scanned the wine, you’re told to ‘wait for assistance’.

You might be fortunate and find there is an employee available to help straight away, but all too often, they are helping another customer or dealing with another issue. Before you know it, you’re faced with a decision; leave the wine and catch your train, or wait for assistance and miss the train. We’ve all been there.


‘ID please’

Once assistance has arrived, the employee either checks your ID (depending on how young you look), or bypasses the age restriction screen and lets you continue with your shopping.

Our research found that over 40 percent of people think there should be another way to prove their age at a self-checkout because it takes too long for someone to help (19 percent), they find it annoying to wait for assistance (17 percent), or because retail staff don’t check their ID (10 percent).

Not only can it be frustrating to wait for our age to be approved, but it means we need to remember our passport or driving licence in case we are asked to prove our age. But it seems illogical to carry around and risk losing these valuable documents just to buy a bottle of wine. Every year in the UK alone almost 400,000 people report a lost passport and almost one million driving licences were lost by British drivers in 2017.

The government and police advise us to leave these valuable documents safe at home given they’re expensive to replace, and they place the owner at greater risk of identity theft if they fall into the wrong hands. But without an alternative, how else are we meant to prove our age?

The increasing quality and accessibility of fake IDs also make it very difficult for retail staff to confidently and accurately check someone’s ID. Counterfeit documents with holograms are available to buy online for just £10 and it is unrealistic to train employees to spot fake documents from over 160 countries.

Not to mention the difficulty for staff if the photo on the ID document was taken years ago and the customer has changed their appearance since then. All of this becomes even more challenging when the store is busy and the employee has to review someone’s ID in a matter of seconds.


Simpler, speedier shopping

New digital identity technology, which can be integrated into self-checkouts, enables shoppers to prove their age in seconds without waiting for assistance from staff or showing photo ID documents.

Being able to walk into a shop, pick up a bottle of wine and then prove our age using technology might feel like something out of a science fiction film. But using digital identity to improve age verification at the self-checkout is the next logical step for retailers who want to innovate and keep pace with the demand from modern consumers for quick, seamless and convenient services.

Customers will have two ways they can prove their age. Individuals can face the self-checkout’s built-in camera and in a matter of seconds, age estimation technology will estimate whether the person is over or under the required age limit for the product they wish to buy. Or, customers can use a free digital identity app to scan a QR code on the self-checkout screen and share their age in seconds.

We’ll no longer have to wait for a member of staff to intervene, and employees will have more time to help with other tasks, enhancing the overall shopping experience. In that sense, the self-checkout really does become self-functioning.


The technology can reduce any potential friction between employees and customers, as reports have shown that retail staff are being intimidated when challenging age. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reported 10,000 incidents of violence towards store staff in the last year alone. In addition, the technology doesn’t get tired on a long shift so it can continually check the age of customers to a high degree of accuracy. It cannot show personal favour to friends or family, or bias against individual customers.

A new era of age verification

With 37 percent of companies saying they are very concerned about selling age-restricted goods or services to minors, and 79 percent planning to strengthen their age verification process, the time has come for a new way to prove our age.

Digital age verification at the self-checkout gives us a faster and safer way to prove our age, without sharing lots of personal details typically printed on an ID document. It is also more inclusive – helping those who do not own a formal ID document to prove their age to purchase age-restricted items.

Not only does it take some of the pressure off retail workers, it minimises potential friction between staff and customers, reduces the risks of fake IDs and gives businesses more confidence that they’re not selling underage items to young people.

With a new way to prove our age, we’ll no longer be faced with the dilemma: wait for assistance in order to buy a bottle of wine, or miss out so that we can run and catch our next train.

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