Phone scanning foodSo what's Walmart up to with its mobile checkout test run?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Walmart (WMT) is giving its new Scan and Go system a trial in one if its Bentonville, Ark., supercenters. Customers will be able to scan items with their smartphones as they shop, then pay quickly at special kiosks, thereby skipping the checkout line. What the new system conspicuously fails to do is allow shoppers to pay with their mobile devices.

The apparently tentative move might seem like a half-hearted approach to what is arguably the biggest change brewing in how Americans shop. But when it comes to how the nation's largest merchant goes about its business, attention must be paid to all the details: This pilot program could be less about making it easier for shoppers to pay, and more about getting you to spend more.

Mobile Payment Mania

For its part, Walmart is being tight-lipped about the test. "We are continually testing new and innovative ways to serve customers and enhance the shopping experience," Ravi Jariwala, a company spokesman, tells DailyFinance. "At this point, we don't have anything specific to share on that testing."

Whatever its motivation, Walmart is taking a decidedly more measured approach to mobile checkout than its retail brethren.

Apple (AAPL), a mobile-payment pioneer, launched EasyPay last year, which allows customers at its Apple Stores to complete purchases on their smartphones without the help of a store employee. Even before that, those stores were largely cashier-less: Employees check out shoppers with handheld card readers so they don't have to wait in lines.

Meanwhile, J.C. Penney (JCP) set plans in July to eliminate cashiers, cash registers and checkout counters, replacing them with a smorgasbord of solutions, such as WiFi networks, mobile checkout, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology tracking systems for merchandise, and self-checkout options.

Beyond single company advances, a battle is being waged for consumers' digital wallets, with apps that enable shoppers to leave their cash and credit cards at home, and use their smart phones to pay for purchases.

Although new mobile payment options keep on popping up, retailers have yet to adopt a universal platform, though MCX, a new mega-retailer backed mobile payment network, is taking a shot at it.

New Way to Sell More Merchandise?

So why would Walmart invest in a technology that doesn't enable shoppers to seal the shopping deal and actually pay for their purchases themselves?

Perhaps because the true value of Scan and Go could very well lie elsewhere, says Ryan Taft, managing partner with OnSpot Social, an iPad app for retailers that collects Facebook "likes," Twitter followers and email addresses in-store.

By having shoppers scan items, Walmart knows "what consumers [will purchase] even before they've purchased it," which grants the retailer not only a good read on changing consumer purchasing habits, but an opportunity to up-sell shoppers in real time, Taft tells DailyFinance.

So if you scan a box of sugar cones at the Bentonville Walmart store, the retailer has an on-the-spot shot at getting your ice cream dollars, too, by offering you, say, a Breyers coupon, for example.

With Scan and Go, "they can change my purchasing decision right there on the spot, which has never been done before in the history of retail in a brick-and-mortar store," Taft says.

While these types of instant offers based on purchasing behavior are commonplace online -- think of Amazon (AMZN), where after you add items to your cart, a list of other complimentary products that might interest you pops up -- they've eluded physical stores.

And as online retail siphons market share from brick-and-mortar stores, merchants are trying to "figure out ways to leverage technology to compete, by offering online shopping like advantages," Taft says.

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Well another Walmart story! The real story should be, Federal Trade Commision going to stop Walmart from Building a Monopoly. Walmart is going to destroy its competition, not good for ALL AMERICANS..

September 05 2012 at 8:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bigtreesleo's comment

You nailed it. China Mart doesn't like competition.

September 05 2012 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't realize Walmart even had people who walked around and shopped for you? So you're saying that that person is going to lose their job? Wow. Get real people. This is called innovation, and there won't be job loss because of this. Walmart barely has sales associates on the floor to begin with. Plus, Walmart is still forcing the customer to go through the checkout line to pay for their items. To not require this would be to open Pandora's Box. Theft would be absolutely rampant in a Walmart store. They have no choice but to force customers to through the checkout area still. Self checkout lanes are already a theft magnet which is why you don't see many in some of the rougher neighborhoods Walmart is located. If anything, you may see an increase in jobs since they'll need to hire more security to watch customers with the eye in the sky.

September 05 2012 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Clarke

Other stores are already doing things like this - though one does suspect that Walmart's motivation for doing so is not just because it's "convenient" for customers:

September 05 2012 at 10:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The biggest mistake these large companies are making in retail is that they are selling "online." The more they allow people to buy online with no encentive to go to there retail stores the more they are losing in "impulse" buying. Impluse buying is where most retail stores make there money, when a person walks the isles and picks up stuff they didn't come to buy because they bought it on "impulse." This type of buying is what made retail stores large amounts of additional profit. When they allow people to shop online for there products people normally just search for that one thing online they are looking for with no reason or means to pick up somthing because they saw it on the shelf and figured they need it. These retail stores have to open there eyes to this and get people back into there stores to make there profits again.

September 05 2012 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

China-Mart replacing low wage workers. What a surprise.

September 05 2012 at 8:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Say NO to libs!

Keep coming up with gizmos & gadgets to replace workers and before you know it, you'll have no customers because nobody will have a job.

September 05 2012 at 7:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply