Qthru's model calls for shoppers in participating stores to scan bar codes with the cellular handsets they're carrying as they put items in their shopping carts. When ready to check out, they simply walk to a Qthru-enabled point-of-sale (POS) station, scan the telephone itself, enter a personal identification number (PIN), receive a printed receipt, greet a store employee who supervises the POS kiosk, and walk out. Qthru and co-operating retailers are experimenting with weigh stations for measured produce.
A story in the Seattle Business Journal quoted retail store owner Tyler Myers to the effect that "... shoplifting is nearly impossible." There is clear potential for savings in check-out labor, and at least a portion of shoppers will regard Qthru as a convenience.
Among the secondary effects possible:
- The Qthru application will become a natural vehicle for targeted communications, suggestive selling, couponing, and replacement of or coordination with existing loyalty cards. The implication for shopper analytics are arguably the largest benefit Qthru offers retailers.
- Retailing folklore suggests that consumers will shop to a budget limit with more precision when running totals are available to them. Preliminary research suggests this boosts average visit totals by a few percentage points.
- The high-margin front-of-the-store impulse purchases--snacks, tabloids, and so on--will be increasingly left behind by fast-moving shoppers speeding through check-out.
Qthru remains a long way from wide-spread roll-out. As presently configured, it requires installation in each retail store of a dedicated $900 POS kiosk, a significant barrier to quick adoption. Still, the existing models of self check-out are no better than mixed successes. Qthru and rivals still-to-come are sure to generate more ideas to improve the payment process.