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Is the Holiday Season Tradition of Long Checkout Lines Going Away?

By Daniel B. Kline – Nov 6, 2018 at 4:52AM

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Walmart and Target are both offering new mobile options that bypass the cashiers and registers.

Apple (AAPL -1.51%) pioneered the idea of allowing people to pay for their purchases anywhere in its stores with assistance from roaming staffers, rather than requiring them to wait in a traditional checkout line. Indeed, Apple Stores don't even have dedicated cashiers or registers -- the tech company has fully embraced the mobile model.

That makes some sense for a retailer that largely sells a limited variety of expensive items, and where customers generally aren't purchasing many of them at once. It's convenient when the salesperson helping you can also close out the transaction -- and, in theory, it cuts down on waiting.

Now, as the 2018 holiday shopping season gets underway, both Walmart (WMT -2.50%) and Target (TGT -0.23%) plan to give their own variations on the Apple model a try. They will offer checkout via roving employees, though neither will be getting rid of its traditional cashiers.

A Walmart employee helps a consumers with mobile checkout.

Walmart's new "Checkout with Me" lets consumers avoid waiting in line for a traditional cashier. Image source: Walmart.

What are Target and Walmart doing?

The discount retailers will be executing similar plans in slightly different ways. As Target explained its mobile checkout offering in a press release:

Using specially equipped handheld devices, team members simply scan any item in a guest's basket or shopping cart and accept payment by credit card on the spot from anywhere in the store. During peak events like Black Friday, team members will be located in the busiest areas of the store, such as Electronics. This checkout technology is the latest feature built by Target's technology team to make shopping easier for guests.

Walmart is doing roughly the same thing, and explained what it calls "Checkout with Me" in a press release of its own:

To make checkout easier, starting Nov. 1, Walmart is positioning associates in the busiest areas of its stores, like the garden center, electronics or in action alley, so customers can bypass regular checkout lines and pay for everything right in the department they are shopping. Associates will help customers pay and go by simply swiping their credit card and providing them with a paper or electronic receipt for their purchase.

In both cases, customers who choose this option won't have to wait in line to check out. That should, in theory, lead to shorter lines for those less tech-savvy shoppers who prefer to use traditional cashiers, assuming both chains staff their registers at the same levels as they have in previous years.

Is this the end of cashiers?

Amazon has taken this evolution a step further in its Amazon Go convenience stores, where it has eliminated checkout entirely. Customers simply grab the items they want, and are charged for them automatically when they exit the store. You do need to have the Amazon Go app installed on your mobile device, and have a payment method associated with it, but if your personal tech is set up, you can shop and leave without even having to scan your purchases.

Among the more upscale chains, Macy's debuted its own scan-and-go mobile checkout system in March; its customers can check out their own purchases, though they still have to stop at a station near a store exit to get their receipts checked and have any security tags removed from their items. And a number of other mall-based store chains have been supplementing traditional checkouts with roaming employees outfitted with portable payment devices.

Waiting in line is an annoyance, and technology has made it a reasonably easy pain point for retailers to remove. This year may not bring the end of traditional checkout, but it's a clear tipping point in the shift away from it.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Walmart Stock Quote
$130.06 (-2.50%) $-3.33
Target Corporation Stock Quote
Target Corporation
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Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
$150.43 (-1.51%) $-2.31
Macy's, Inc. Stock Quote
Macy's, Inc.
$15.72 (-0.44%) $0.07

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