7-Eleven Australia trials mobile checkout to reduce shopper friction

24 January 2019

Global Convenience Store Focus’ Dan Mumford spoke to Stephen Eyears, 7-Eleven head of strategy, innovation and business development about our mobile checkout trial.

Read Dan’s article online.

Posted on: 24th January 2019

7-Eleven Stores Australia is a hot bed of innovation with its own department dedicated to the cause. One of the latest innovations on trial and recently promoted via LinkedIn, is an app that enables mobile checkout.

Stephen Eyears, head of strategy, innovation and business development, highlights the benefits the 7-Eleven brand brings to the party and the retailer’s significant programme of innovation work.

“One of the benefits to being part of a brand like 7-Eleven is that the company invests in innovation and trials to ensure that new offers are fully tested before they roll out to all stores,” he says. “Under the 7-Eleven model, we fund development, refurbishments and equipment. So we can invest what’s needed if we think an idea has potential, and then both ourselves and our franchise partners benefit from the incremental growth the idea can deliver.”

The new mobile checkout app is currently on trial in one store in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD).

“We are testing customer acceptance and store usability,” explains Eyears.

Increased convenience, however, is the key goal.

“What we are always looking to do is find ways that reduce customer friction in terms of engaging with us. Our stores are very busy and popular so we are looking at ways to reduce the amount of time customers have to spend in store and that’s what this app is trying to achieve,” Eyears says.

The ability to conduct the whole shopping experience on a mobile phone is designed to speed shopper missions, Eyears says. It also has a spin-off benefit.

“At the same time it enables us to redirect that labour to store standards and the customer experience,” Eyears says.

While the trial is still in the very early stages, the volume of transactions has not been significant. 7-Eleven has purposely elected to initially promote the app in-store with Point of Sale and via store team members talking to regular customers about the new technology. According to Eyears, that’s to ensure there are “no hiccups in terms of usability”. The next stage will be to promote the app via social media and PR, he says. “LinkedIn is starting the whole process to drive broader engagement to the test,” he says.

The user benefits of the 7-Eleven mobile checkout app are very apparent – in busy convenience stores, they no longer need to queue to pay. That shortens their wait time at any time of day.

The app’s mechanics are equally straightforward. When a customer signs up, they provide 7-Eleven with their payment details and take a ‘selfie’, which is stored on their phone and is integral to the process (more later). Using the app, they scan barcodes to add items to their basket or can select items from a favourites button. Six favourite buttons, which cover the top-selling products in 7-Eleven stores including coffee, bottled water and Slurpee, are currently being tested in the trial. They eliminate the need to barcode scan. Again, it’s about 7-Eleven finding new ways to speed the entire checkout process, Eyears says. While the favourites buttons currently feature best sellers, the aim – as 7-Eleven gains knowledge and more people are using the app – is to change those to reflect sales, Eyears reports. Ultimately and if the app is scaled, the buttons will be personalised to the customer to enable them to select their own favourites, he adds.

The customer ‘selfie’ meanwhile links to another piece of the mobile checkout solution 7-Eleven is trialling, namely an iPad-based kiosk for store team members. Uploaded with software, it lets front of house staff know when people are in store using the app. As items are scanned and drop into their baskets, front of house teams can see what’s happening. The kiosk also displays the customer’s selfie so that team members can immediately identify a shopper using the mobile checkout solution and the products they are putting in their basket. In addition, they are are alerted when a shopper has hit the payment button.

According to Eyears, the aim is both to discover whether mobile checkout is a form of shopping that customers want to do and whether the technology gives our team members confidence in regard to what is happening in store – which customers are self-scanning and which are going to come up to the till.

Comparisons between 7-Eleven’s mobile checkout solution and Amazon Go are ill founded, Eyears maintains.

“It’s not about us doing an Amazon Go and it’s not about us trying to deliver a labourless store – we think having store staff to serve and assist is a real positive thing,” he says. “Amazon Go is not a labourless store – that’s a misconception,” he adds. “For other models that have been touted to compete with Amazon Go, you have to be a member of a club. We don’t want a system that makes our stores only available to people that are in the club. We want mobile checkout to be an option for customers, not the only way to engage with us.”

Another unique feature of the 7-Eleven solution is that if it works from a customer and store adoption point of view, it can be scaled extremely quickly.

“There’s no putting in expensive hardware, redesigning layouts or closing the doors to those customers that don’t wish to use the technology.” Eyears says.

Ramping up the promotion of the new app should drive user numbers, crucial for thorough testing of the solution for store teams, Eyears reports.

“We really have to put them under a bit of pressure, add some volume and test the usability,” he says.

7-Eleven has also been busy engaging with staff and not just at the trial store but across its network.

We’ve gathered a lot of feedback and about the store kiosk in particular and what would make it more usable,” he says.

Eyears reports that one suggestion from one of the working groups that previewed the material was to add sound to the kiosk and not just visuals.

“So we are working with the front line to add refinements,” he explains.

Questions surrounding theft through the solution are raised frequently and crucially whether it will lead to more theft.

“My hypothesis that we will test is that it will not be the case,” Eyears says. “If customers are willing to sign up to the app, give their payment details and expose their image, first of all it’s likely that they are going to be a regular customer. Secondly, if I they are going to give all that information, I doubt that they are going to be the shop lifting type. The app will appeal to regular customers that are in store every day or twice a day, not to those that only shop with us occasionally, so my hypothesis is that it’s not going to drive theft.”

Eyears also holds the view that 7-Eleven should not be worrying about the 1% or fewer shaping what it is trying to achieve but to focus on the majority.

While it’s early days, the future looks bright.

“Store teams and franchisees all love the idea of whatever we can do to reduce queues, people waiting and putting pressure on the front line but enabling staff to focus on store standards, cleanliness and great customer engagement. That’s something that’s been very positive,” Eyears says.

The mobile checkout solution is also future proofing the business, he adds.

“There will be a time and, perhaps not a decade away, when cash is going to become very minimal in the store environment.”

In terms of ‘tap and go’ or ‘contactless’ payments, Australia is 10 years ahead of the US, he maintains.

Critically the app brings another huge business benefit to 7-Eleven, as Eyears acknowledges.

“If we can utilize the functionality in an app, it’s another reason for customers to engage with us and give us a level of detail that otherwise we would not have – it’s the ability to get into a digital, two-way conversation,” he says.

And that will surely spark further innovation.