NEW YORK — Supermarkets and drugstores have nothing on Rebecca Minkoff, whose SoHo store here is offering its customers self-checkout options, beginning this holiday season.
Minkoff has partnered with QueueHop, a self-checkout technology system that aims to make the Millennial customers’ in-store experience hassle-free. The system is aimed at those customers who are in a big hurry, prefer not to deal with sales associates or simply are introverts.
Minkoff is the first retail client of QueueHop, a New York-based company that was launched last January and is going after apparel retail clients. QueueHop participated in the Y Combinator, a three-month program in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year that provides seed money for start-ups.
“More and more we are seeing Millennials want to be in complete control of any and all of their shopping, and that includes payment,” said Uri Minkoff, chief executive officer of Rebecca Minkoff. “Long gone are the days where you needed to depend fully on a sales assistant to request new sizes or to ring you up. We needed to continue finding ways to make her feel like she can have multiple experiences.” He said he became familiar with QueueHop through a Linkedin connection.
The purpose of the self-checkout technology is to increase customer empowerment and control and help consumers avoid lines and delays, especially during the holiday season.
Minkoff is utilizing the new technology at its SoHo store at 96 Greene Street. There’s no cash wrap desk at the store and until now, sales associates exclusively used iPads to check out customers.
Initially, the new self-checkout technology is available for customers who are buying handbags, scarves and small leather goods. Eventually it will be expanded to other Minkoff merchandise at the store.
Lindon Gao, cofounder and ceo of QueueHop, said, “We’re in discussions with other retailers. This technology is made for fast retailing as well,” citing a store like Zara for example.
Gao said what makes his system different from others used in supermarkets is that it’s an antitheft security system that comes with self-checkout. “The security tag unlocks upon payment, and this is not seen anywhere else. High ticketed items that are tagged in regular stores would require staff assistance for removal. QueueHop’s system automates the whole process with technology alone,” he said.
He noted that it hasn’t been fully implemented in Rebecca Minkoff, but the QueueHop system complements mobile self-checkout, as well. “So you can use your phone, scan the QR code on the tag, pay for the item and the tag would unlock. This removes the need for the self-checkout kiosk and allows customers to checkout anywhere on the sales floor. Imagine the impact of this during holiday shopping seasons — you won’t need a checkout counter anymore and nobody would need to wait in line to checkout,” he said.
Queuehop is not a point of sale provider. “We can plug into any POS systems and work straight away with minimal integration,” Gao noted.
According to Gao, the reason why self-checkout hasn’t been implemented in physical fashion retailing is because, unlike grocery stores, if someone steals a bag, it is much more costly to the retailers. “However, self-checkout is much needed in the retail industry as brick-and-mortar struggles to stay relevant with Millennials who are more used to interacting with technologies than humans. I’m truly excited about the prospects of this technology as it may fundamentally change the way people shop in physical retail and potentially bring shoppers back to brick-and-mortar with this improved experience,” Gao said.
Minkoff said part of the appeal is that customers want “anonymous” shopping experiences and don’t want to feel intimidated. He said customers often have second thoughts when they’re waiting on a line to check out — “Maybe I don’t need this” or “Am I buying too much or too little?” They also start comparing their purchases to what other people are buying. Now, the transaction is between the customer, her shopping bag and her credit card company, he said.
Minkoff said there are also those people who feel intimidated by sales personnel and it ruins the store experience for them.
“People may want to come into the store, try it on and purchase it, but they may not want to talk to people,” he said. Others want to engage in dialogue and that’s what the sales associates are for. “We cater to both experiences,” Minkoff said.
The way the QueueHop system works is the customer puts the product she wants to purchase on the scanner, and the RFID reader will recognize the item and bring up the price and the sales tax. The system will ask whether the customer wants a printed receipt or emailed one, and then the customer pays. Once the card is approved, the sales associate brings over the sales receipt and a bag so the customer can put their items in. Before that, the customer must remove the anti-theft security tag in a slot, which once they pay, comes right off, and they toss the tag into a bin.
The RFID/Acousto-magnet embedded security tags have a QR Code on the outer shell. When the product associated to those tags is purchased, a tap against the unlock booth unlocks the tag.
“If you haven’t bought it, the tag won’t come off,” said Minkoff. In addition, “If someone tries to leave and something is still tagged, an alarm will go off,” he said.
Minkoff believes that self-checkout will be key in extremely busy retailers, such as Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, especially for customers who want to be anonymous and check out quickly. He feels that the self-checkout experience is similar to what customers get online, but this way, they can go into a store and try it on. “It approximates the online experience. They can try it on, self-checkout and get out,” he said. He also equated it to having access to a store after dark, where you can have your own retail experience and not be bothered by anyone.
Over the next six months, Minkoff said the company plans to add the self-checkout system to additional stores.
In other news at the retailer, the company is transitioning to Oak Labs for its in-store technology. Since November 2014, Minkoff had used eBay for its “connected store.” Oak Labs is the company that provided Ralph Lauren in November 2015 with 16 full-size touch screen mirror units, eight of which were installed in Polo’s Fifth Avenue flagship at 55th Street. Others went into Polo doors in high-performing markets.
The touch-screen mirrors in the Minkoff fitting rooms allow the customer to request different colors or sizes, as well as see suggestions from Rebecca Minkoff herself on what to wear with particular looks. The fitting room is able to show looks in different lighting situations, such as SoHo After Dark. It also provides information in six different languages. “It creates a nice experience for the consumer to have that dialog if the sales associate doesn’t speak their language,” Minkoff said.
Minkoff said the most valuable part is they can analyze what makes it into a fitting room and what doesn’t, and that’s more valuable than what’s simply being purchased. They can also see opportunities in different price points, such as whether there’s more of an opportunity for less expensive items, or higher price points, based on what the customer brings into the dressing room and requests.
“Just to know what was bought is one data point, but what trafficked into the fitting room is more significant data,” he said.
The technology, available at 96 Greene Street, is going into Minkoff’s stores in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.