The Self-Serve Concept and K3|imagine


Until roughly a century ago retail customer experience was quite different to what we know today. Customers had to line up in a queue at the store and once they reached the counter they would tell a store clerk what they wanted to purchase. The clerk would then collect the products from the shelves behind them, bring them back to the counter and collect the payment from the customer. Understandably this had many disadvantages for the customer as well as the retailer who had to employ a “small army“ of store clerks to service the customer who often needed to wait for a long while to be serviced.

This changed quite dramatically in 1916 Clarence Saunders when opened the first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis, Tennessee. Instead of a customer waiting area with heavy countertops he introduced characteristic turnstiles at the entrance and exit. Inside the store, cabinets were arranged along a continuous path where customers were free to walk through the aisles with their shopping carts (which were also a new concept at the time), check out the merchandise and pick the products by themselves. Instead of ordering sugar or flour by weight, to be measured by the clerk, they found pre-bagged sugar and flour in neat stacks. Refrigerator cases were used in order to keep some products like milk and butter fresher. Tags were hung above every product showing the prices clearly and the customers could compare the prices of different brands. The army of order taking clerks was not required any longer and Piggly Wiggly was able to provide a significantly lower price than competitors. At the same time Piggly Wiggly had revolutionised customer experience, empowering customers to service themselves.

Saunders called his unique retail concept a “Self-Serving Store“ and in 1917 he was granted a patent for this concept. Three other patents followed; one for the basic store design, one for tagging prices next to the item and one for providing customers with a printed receipt from the adding machine tape. It‘s fair to say that Saunders vision paved way to how in-store retail has been conducted ever since. It‘s also quite remarkable how little in-store retail has changed during the last 100 years and Saunders concept still lives a good life to this day.

Customers had to handover the contents of their shopping basket to a cashier who would punch them into an adding machine, as they were called, and take the payment.

In the last 20 to 25 years we have finally started to experience self-service of payment handling, largely coinciding with the rise of the Internet in the mainstream. But it‘s not limited to web shop transactions. Petrol stations have for a long time provided self-service, ATM‘s are another type of self-serving and in recent years we have seen the rise of self-serve checkouts and kiosks in the food and retail industry which finally closes the circle for Saunders ambitious and revolutionary concept which he introduced so long ago.

Where does K3|imagine come in?

K3 Business Technology Group has been involved in making self-service solutions in retail for quite some time. In 2007 K3 created a self-service retail solution for furniture giant IKEA, a project I lead at the time. It‘s now 2019 and 12 years may not sound like a long time but when it comes to technology it surely is. Remember that this was the year the first iPhone was introduced. It‘s that long time ago. We had several technical and practical challenges to deal with such as countries where card payments with PIN entry was not commonplace or even not established at the time. A lot of communication was required to “train“ customer to use this new concept. Even incorporating media files into the software to provide clear information to the customer was complex technically. There were also plenty of naysayers at the time who did not believe in this idea and their biggest argument was around theft and security. We addressed this by making a survey where we analysed videos of 1000 transactions from the self-checkout to try to see how many mistakes or fraudulent activities took place. The results were quite astonishing as out of those 1000 transactions 994 were correct, 4 were honest mistakes and 2 were deliberate frauds. When compared to the normal checkouts we realised that the transactions going through the self-checkouts were much more accurate. Needless to say, we never had to have this discussion again. We also overcame the technical hurdles and I am proud to say that this solution is still being used today in several countries.

At K3, we are more committed than ever to help retailers flourish. To use our experience, expertise and products to help them grow and grab with both hands the opportunities that reside in the digital future. The launch of the K3|imagine platform has provided K3 with a wealth of opportunities to help retailers transform their customer journey and make their business better through better customer service by use of our technology. K3 has built and implemented a suite of self-service applications on the K3|imagine platform such as

  • Self-checkout (SCO)
  • Self-Serve kiosk
  • Order-at-table for restaurateurs

If you want to know more about how we can help your business using the K3|imagine platform or if you want to know more about the K3|imagine Self-Serve offering, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Just like Clarence Saunders did, we innovate for better business future.

Author: Gaukur Sigurdsson, R&D Director at K3 Business Technology Group

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