Is the checkout of the future no checkout at all?

Your modern-day cash register may soon seem as antique as this one, thanks to new checkout and payment technology.

Your modern-day cash register may soon seem as antique as this one, thanks to new checkout and payment technology.

By Henry Brown

Imagine one day you decide to go completely crazy. You walk into a store, take the stuff you want, and walk straight out again. No payment, no checkout, no nothing.

Today, you’d be branded a criminal, but in the future, you could just be another regular shopper. Michael Chui is a partner at McKinsey Global Institute. He says the checkout of the future won’t be like it is today. Instead, it’ll feel just like you’re stealing. You’ll do exactly what today’s shoplifters do and walk out the door with goods in hand. And even if you wanted to pay at the regular checkout, you couldn’t anyway because, well, there isn’t one.

Of course, there won’t be anything illegal about this. It’s all being made possible by the tremendous advances in payment systems we’ve seen over the last few years. Shoppers already have about 20 apps through which businesses can now take payments, and there are also integrated systems and Paypal credit card reader options that allow them to mix and match payments according to customer preferences. But the massive progress we’ve seen already will seem like child’s play compared to what’s ahead.

Small businesses need to get on and start using this technology. There will only be a brief window of time where it is novel, and any company using it in the early days is sure to stand out from the competition. In fact, many checkout experiences have already been transformed.

iPads at the dinner table

One of the most exciting developments we’ve seen over the last year or so is the inclusion of iPads at the dinner table. Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic news outlet explains that some restaurants now allow customers to order their food from their table and then check themselves out by paying on an iPad. What’s more the price of these systems makes them accessible to small restaurant owners. According to, prices range between $25 and $150 a month. The impact on wait staff is likely to be profound as their role turns into one of carrying food to and from tables, as well as assisting customers use technology, rather than take orders.

Retail stores are doing the same

Then there is the transformation of retail stores. M Greene, an author of several books on the retail environment, says the Internet of Things is going to change retail in ways most people can’t imagine yet. He envisions a world where all of the physical objects in a store are connected via a network. Stores will then track these objects in their network, debiting linked customer accounts when they are taken out of the store.

According to Greene, this represents a sea change in the retail experience. The first steps being taken towards this are already being seen in small business retail stores. The clunky old cash register is being replaced by iPads, making space for promotional items on the counter top. According to Economic Voice, customers of small businesses are also about to check themselves out using tablets placed on walls and have their receipts sent to them electronically via email or text.

Self-service machines will take out the work involved in queuing for the checkout, and smartphone apps will make it easier to locate where various products are kept in supermarkets. What’s more, these mobile POS systems are affordable to small businesses, allowing them to transform their checkout experience, no matter where they are based.

Small businesses need to adopt a “butler mentality” when it comes to new technology. They need to constantly ask themselves, how does this help me reduce the amount of work that customers have to do in our stores?


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

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