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A new invention by NCR Corp. could "revolutionize" shopping


Atlanta-based NCR (NYSE: NCR) says it's developed what it calls a "whole store scanner" that will allow shoppers to buy items in a store with no need to checkout at a traditional checkout lane.


Supermarket grocery checkout

The system was made public today for the first time in a U.S. patent application by NCR.

"With these approaches," NCR says,"it is possible to revolutionize the checkout process for retailers and consumers. To summarize, the process can be as simple as placing items in a cart, picking up an electronic or paper receipt, and leaving the store."

What's more, NCR says, "There is no need for retailer or consumer mobile devices to scan products. No 'smart carts' are needed to charge or suffer damage/vandalism. However, the invention is able to integrate with mobile self-service checkout for consumer itemization and payment. It is also able to integrate with existing self-service checkout (SSCO) business logic for interventions such as alcohol, items to be weighed, reconciliation of uncertainty, and the like."

The technology uses a technology similar to facial-recognition software that's used to track people's movement on a street.

Here's how it works. The system employs dozens of low-cost cameras to watch the customer, the customer's shopping cart or basket, and the view of visible items as the customer moves through a store.

When a customer enters a store, a first camera takes his or her image that is then linked with the empty shopping cart he or she's selected, NCR says. The shopper then links a mobile phone or other payment mechanism with that image. The customer can also insert a debit card into a card reader and authorize the transaction by entering a personal identification number. This can happen when the customer begins to shop, or when he or she is finished shopping, as is currently typical.

When the customer first begins shopping, multiple views of the customer and the items he or she select are synchronized as the customer moves through the store.

"Assumptions about what has likely not changed versus what has changed are also advantageously utilized," NCR says. "For example, once an item is added to a cart or basket, the relatively static image of the contents of the basket or cart will not change unless the customer adds, removes, or rearranges the item or items. So as long as the view remains relatively unchanged, the system can assume the same items are in the basket or cart. Only when something visibly changes does the system need to attempt to interpret what has happened. In other words, has an item been added, removed, or rearranged?"

The system can even provide the real-time contents of all carts in the store.

It also watches shelves. "Shelf cameras track changes to shelves where items are added, removed or shuffled," NCR says, "as, for example, 1) when a customer takes a product from one shelf, changes his or her mind about a purchase and then leaves the item at the point of changing the decision rather than returning the item to where it belongs; 2) when a customer picks up a product from a shelf and then puts it back after looking at a label; 3) when inventory is added by store personnel; 4) when a vendor responsible for maintaining shelf space for a specific product, adds, removes or otherwise moves product; or the like. Items removed from a shelf in proximity to a cart can also be tracked. Overhead cart cameras track changes to cart contents such as adding, removing and shuffling."

NCR says its new technology overcomes the hurdles that have prevented a variety of "smart cart" and "smart shelf" concepts from becoming widely adopted in stores because of high cost and other issues.

Using the new invention, the company says, "the scanning based POS [point of sale] checkout experience for retailers and shoppers is advantageously replaced. Additionally, any need for consumers to scan their purchases with a mobile or other scanning device is eliminated. Further, radio frequency identification (RFID) or other special item taggings are not necessary. Advantageously, all solution components are part of the store infrastructure, so no mobile device or special equipment on the carts is required."

In addition, NCR says the new system "advantageously supports collection and evaluation of a full range of shopper analytic data, such as how long a customer stopped to view a product, what products were picked up and then put back down, and the like."






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