Essential Retail tested out the new mobile app from Waitrose which allows in-store shoppers to scan-as-they-shop using their own mobile device instead of a handset.
This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for since Waitrose launched its Quick Check scan-as-you-shop service over a decade ago. Since then, Waitrose shoppers have had to carry a bulky handset in order to scan and immediately pack their items as they walk around the store – indeed Waitrose trollies are kitted out with a dedicated holder for the famous handset.
Finally, the retailer has rolled out an app which negates the need for the handset, so I tested it out in the Wandsworth store the last week.
Firstly, it was super easy to set up, using the smartphone camera, the app scans your MyWaitrose loyalty card to log you in. So seamless, no fiddly typing in of membership numbers. So far, so good.
On entering the Waitrose store I see a green sign advertising the mobile app with a QR code you scan to begin your shopping trip. On auto-pilot, I had already picked up a basket and soon realised I didn’t need one, just my reusable bag (Waitrose conveniently has its jute bags hanging underneath the QR code priced at £5.50). So shopping bag slung over my arm and iPhone in my right hand, off I went to scan my first item – grapefruit squash. Immediately it was in my digital basket and the physical item went into my bag. But it felt so strange – especially because I only wanted a few things and didn’t have a trolley – I felt like I was stealing, so I walked around the shop with the phone boldly in my hand, almost challenging the security guards to check my bags.
It was all going so well, I felt empowered, I was particularly excited by a lack of ‘unidentified item’ sirens in my near future, and then the Wi-Fi failed spectacularly. I couldn’t connect to the in-store O2 Wi-Fi network, so I must have still been on 4G when I made my first scan. It was so frustrating, I just couldn’t connect and everytime I scanned an item the ‘wheel of death’ and an error code appeared on my screen.
After faffing about, picking items up off shelves, putting them in my bag, realising they didn’t scan, so panicking at my thievery and putting them back on the shelves, I went to speak to a Waitrose colleague who told me to pick my items and scan them all at the end – the advice they give when the Wi-Fi is patchy.
So after I’d picked around ten items, I was ready to pay and go, but where was I supposed to scan and pay? I went to the café thinking I would have a table there, but now the silly rule where you can’t have your free coffee and sit down unless you buy something else from the café (despite having a bag full of groceries) prevented me from doing that. In the end I went back to the lovely colleague who helped me finish the order at a self-service checkout.
Wi-Fi aside, one thing that annoyed me was the lack of signposting within the app regarding payment. Having not used the Quick Scan handsets before, I assumed I would be paying for my groceries in the app, but in order to pay, you have to go to a self-service checkout, scan another QR code to complete the shop and pay using the POS. This is what I did, and when queried whether I had scanned everything, hit ‘no’ and finished my shop the traditional way. At least there was no voice shouting about unidentified items in my basket this time.
It was such a shame, the app is really good, for instance, when I managed to scan a second item Waitrose prompted me on my mobile that it was on a multi-buy offer, something I would have missed otherwise, due to my flapping about over Wi-Fi connectivity.
But it comes down the problem of snazzy apps and weak infrastructure – you can create an award-winning app, but if your store has zero mobile signal and the Wi-Fi is having an off day, it becomes redundant. To be fair to Waitrose, on my return to the office I noticed on Twitter that BT was having outage problems, and being part of the same network, this may have caused the issues. But either way, I was a flustered, embarrassed customer, and the whole experience was sadly, far from seamless.