QThru creator: Local influence perfects app to end checkout lines
July 19, 2012 · Updated 8:19 PM
Entrepreneurs, take note: Pie has power. People will do a lot for pie, and when threatened with the absence of the pastry at Thanksgiving dinner, they’ll do even more.
That’s why software developer Aaron Roberts found himself queued up in the chaos of a Costco store on Thanksgiving Eve two years ago, sent by his wife to buy the forgotten pumpkin pie.
“This was the busiest I’d ever seen it,” he sighed. “First there was a line to get pumpkin pie, and then there was a line to check out after you had your pumpkin pie.”
Roberts came home with the pie, and an idea for a new way to shop.
“I was waiting in line to get the pumpkin pie, and pleading with my wife through texts ‘do I have another option here?’” he said. “So I had a lot of time on my hands, and was thinking, ‘gosh, do I really need to stand in line at all?’”
Two years later last week, Roberts and his new company, QThru (www.qthru.com) announced the availability of his pie-inspired shopping app on Apple’s iTunes app store.
The free app, named for the Snoqualmie Ridge IGA where it was tested, lets IGA shoppers scan, bag and pay for their groceries, all with their smartphones. To use it, shoppers just start the app, then scan the barcodes or, for produce, weigh the items on a computerized scale which produces a barcode for them to scan. Sale items are calculated correctly, since the app is tied in with the store’s point-of-sale program and pricing data.
Items can go into a cart or, for shoppers who don’t want the entire store to see their purchases, something more opaque. Only the cashier who checks your purchase receipt against your items after checkout will look inside.
Phil Stafford, who has led marketing efforts for QThru, said this privacy was an unexpected benefit that QThru developers hadn’t even thought of initially.
“With this solution, you’re in-aisle as you’re scanning, and you could even bring in your own cloth bag to put things into,” he said.
What developers had thought about were the challenges of self-checkout, from both the consumer side, and the store’s perspective.
“This is all done as you shop in-aisle, and it becomes a little less stressful,” said Stafford.
Checkout for QThru shoppers means touching a button on their phones, then scanning a final barcode on a display at the front of the store to authorize payment (the app stores information for a credit card).
Finally, a checker verifies items purchased against the printed receipt.
“You don’t have that pressure of someone standing behind you in line, they’re waiting for you to scan your stuff,” Stafford said.
Also, Roberts says, the app makes self-checkout an affordable option for many stores.
“Most of the traditional self-checkout lanes that you see… low, low, low-end, they cost $25,000, all the way up to the $50- or $60,000 range.”
The app currently charges the store a percentage on each item purchased through it, but as they expand its feature set and begin to work with advertisers, they hope to make the app free for stores, too.
The Ridge IGA didn’t have a self-checkout option before March, when testing began for the QThru app. The store is the first and only place the app can be used, for now, but Roberts said, “The goal is to have it in all Tyler’s stores.”
Tyler is Tyler Myers, owner of the Ridge IGA and a handful of other grocery stores, plus several hardware stores. He became part of the QThru project through his relationship with Stafford, a Ridge resident and businessman.
QThru wanted to try their app first in a smaller business, preferably a grocery store.
“Grocery is the most difficult retail segment out there, because of the weights and measures, alcohol, you have all these things that come into play when you’re in a retail environment,” explained Stafford.
He suggested the Ridge IGA because he knew Myers, knew many shoppers, and thought the arrangement would be mutually beneficial.
“If we’re going to build this out and test it, this is the best environment,” he’d said. “We can solve all the problems here, so when we go to one of Tyler’s hardware stores, that will be a piece of cake,”
Myers took an active role in the process, Stafford said, listing all of his concerns, many of which centered on theft, and the stores recent offerings of hard liquor — the app requires an additional level of verification if any alcohol is in the purchase. They “hand-picked” beta testers who were active trouble-shooters to help with development.
“We were very fortunate to have this scenario in a real-life store, real-life pricing, and also the transaction part, to be able to really fine-tune this,” Stafford said. “Because of that, we’ve been able to progress tremendously with what we’re building out.”
Future versions of the app will be available on other phone operating systems, but for now, you’ll need an iPhone to use QThru’s “The Ridge IGA Supermarket” app.
Roberts explained his company’s reasoning: “Just like we chose grocery as our first retailer, we chose Apple as our first platform because they’re both hard. You solve your hard problems first, and all the others, you almost get for free.”
You can find the app here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-ridge-iga-supermarket/id526288243?mt=8#, and in case you’re wondering, yes, the app does pie.