Reports

How Mobile Self-Scanning Use Influences Consumers’ Grocery Purchases

Maya Vuegen, Anne Ter Braak, Lien Lamey, and Kusum L. Ailawadi, 2019, 19-109-02

Brick-and-mortar retailers are experimenting with technology-based services to improve consumers’ shopping experience in their stores while containing their costs. Among these services, mobile self-scanning allows shoppers to use hand-held devices to scan items as they pick them from the shelves. Shoppers get real-time spending feedback as the device shows prices of individual items as well as a running total of spending, and check-out is faster because purchases need not be unloaded at check-out counter.

Mobile self-scanning is offered by grocery retailers under labels such as “Mobile Scan and Go” (Walmart), “Scan, Bag, Go” (Kroger) or “Scan as you Shop” (Tesco). We know very little about how the use of this technology affects consumers’ purchase behavior. Retailers seem to be taking a cautious approach. Some, such as Carrefour and Kroger have introduced it in some stores, others like Albertsons and Trader Joe’s have not, and Walmart recently discontinued the service.

Maya Vuegen, Anne Ter Braak, Lien Lamey, and Kusum Ailawadi study the impact of mobile self-scanner use on total spending and on components of spending. They study these effects separately for two segments of consumers – those with low versus high experience in using the device. They also examine the extent to which the impact of self-scanner use may be moderated by factors identified in prior research that relate to consumers’ motivation, ability, and opportunity to act on the spending feedback provided by the device.

They use a unique data set covering four weeks of grocery shopping by approximately 1,800 consumers across the major grocery chains in the Netherlands that offer mobile self-scanning technology in at least some stores. They find that low-experience shoppers respond to the spending feedback with less effortful ways to save money, such as simply buying fewer items. This holds in particular for price-conscious consumers and in price-oriented stores.

Once shoppers have gained experience with the device, there is no deleterious effect on total purchasing but there is a strong and significant increase in private label buying. The spending feedback, combined with less constrained cognitive resources, apparently encourages shoppers to stretch their budget with private labels. Interestingly, however, there is no increase in promotional buying.

The analysis has practical relevance for retailers who must decide whether to adopt mobile self-scanning and what features to include in the technology, and for manufacturers who are also directly affected by changes in consumers’ purchase behavior.

Maya Vuegen is a Ph.D. candidate in marketing, Anne Ter Braak is Associate Professor of Marketing, and Lien Lamey is Associate Professor of Marketing, all at KU Leuven, Faculty of Economics and Business. Kusum L. Ailawadi is Charles Jordan 1911 TU’12 Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.

 Acknowledgments
The authors are grateful to AiMark and GfK for providing the data used in this research. They also thank the Marketing Science Institute for research support through the Alden G. Clayton Competition.

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