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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is rolling out a service to a larger audience this month that lets shoppers scan and pay for items without going through checkout lines.

The Bentonville-based retailer said Tuesday that it is taking the next step in its expansion plans for Scan & Go, introducing the smartphone application to an additional 100 stores over the next several weeks. The technology was first tested at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers and had been available at 25 stores in a few markets, including Northwest Arkansas, Dallas-Fort Worth and Orlando, Fla.

Wal-Mart announced the expansion in a blog post and said the stores offering Scan & Go now will stretch across 33 states. In Arkansas, the service is available at a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Neighborhood Market in Rogers and soon will be available at a supercenter in Malvern.

The technology is part of Wal-Mart's ongoing efforts to introduce services that make shopping in stores easier as it competes with Amazon.com, Target Corp., Kroger Co. and others.

The company rolled out a mobile payment app, Walmart Pay, across its 4,700 U.S. stores and has increased the number of self-checkout lanes. Wal-Mart also has expanded and improved pickup options for groceries and general merchandise. The retailer introduced express lanes in areas like pharmacy and financial services last year.

"Retailers need to offer these types of options to continue to compete effectively with online-only retailers," Edward Jones retail analyst Brian Yarbrough said. "One of the big issues, everyone says: 'It's inconvenient. I don't want to wait in line or stand at the checkout.' This helps them avoid it."

The Scan & Go app is available on Android and iOS devices and stores credit and debit card information. When customers finish shopping, they click a button to pay for the products they scanned and show the digital receipt to an employee on their way out.

Some Wal-Mart stores will have handheld devices at kiosks for customers to try the service before downloading the smartphone app. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the kiosks will be set up in about half the stores.

Yarbrough believes it's "too early to tell" if the technology will become a prominent fixture in retail, but believes the expansion of Scan & Go to additional Wal-Mart stores is important as others introduce and experiment with similar technology that gives customers the option of skipping the checkout line.

"Customers want options and I think you have to provide them if you want to be successful in this day and age in retail," Yarbrough said. "It's not a one-size fits all like it used to be. It's much different."

Kroger reportedly will roll out a service called "Scan, Bag, Go" at 400 locations this year as it attempts to offer services to reduce checkout times. Customers can scan items as they shop with a smartphone app or a store scanner and then pay at a self-checkout station.

Amazon's experimental store concept in Seattle, Amazon Go, enables customers to walk in, grab what they want and leave as items are automatically charged to their accounts. The store remains in the planning phases and is open only to Amazon employees.

Neil Stern, a senior partner with Chicago retail consulting firm McMillan-Doolittle, believes the prospect of Amazon Go spurred retailers like Wal-Mart and Kroger into action. Improvements in technology and customer adaptation are driving the renewed acceleration in cashier-free services as well.

"Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Kroger can afford to make the infrastructure investments to make this a reality," Stern said in an email. "And, of course, the more we see this technology, the faster we will see adoption."

The current version of Scan & Go is not Wal-Mart's first test with cashier-free technology. The company conducted a similar test in stores a few years ago, but it never caught on with shoppers.

Meanwhile, Sam's Club -- the company's warehouse business -- began testing its version of Scan & Go in two clubs in 2015 and the service has since been expanded to all of its U.S. stores.

John Furner, Sam's Club's chief executive officer, said at October's annual meeting with the investment community that Scan & Go's usage rate had doubled in the past year.

"It's a really meaningful part of the business," Furner said at the time. "We've done over $1 billion in sales since launch and we keep seeing more and more people use it every week."

Business on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: Wal-Mart expands no-line checkouts

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