Fujitsu uses virtual shoppers to shorten cash register wait times

The company has used "scenario analysis" software to developed simulations to help retailers optimize their checkout layouts

Tired of always picking the slowest checkout line at the supermarket?

Fujitsu is building software for that.

The company has developed code that simulates the checkout lanes of busy retailers. Fujitsu says it can accurately recreate the long lines that form at registers during peak hours, and the software suggests simple tweaks that can easily cut wait times.

One example is what to do with overburdened shoppers.

"When shoppers with a lot of items appear at the center of a row of registers, they become a sort of wall that restricts the movement of other customers, making the total average wait time longer," Fujitsu developer Shohei Yamane told IDG News Service.

"So one thing we could do is advise store employees to steer such shoppers away from central registers."

To model virtual shoppers, Fujitsu uses three different variables for behavior. These include what a shopper can see, the way they figure out the fastest queue to join, and how they maneuver to avoid other shoppers and get in line.

The software also assigns random traits to shoppers, such as the rate at which they appear and how many items they have. The end result is an average checkout time, which is calculated over a series of runs so that different register setups can be compared.

Fujitsu said this approach is more accurate than those currently used to study crowded stores. Most methods try to calculate wait times based on the simple number of shoppers and registers, assuming shoppers will naturally flow to the shortest lines at a store.

Yamane said Fujitsu has been developing the software for about six months, and has run thousands of simulations during testing.

"One thing that we found surprising was that the way in which closing certain registers affects the flow of shoppers," he said.

"We thought it would be best to simply open registers nearest customers, but there's a possibility that it's better not to close registers that are adjacent to each other."

The algorithms behind the software, which Fujitsu calls "scenario analysis," can also be applied to other areas. Yamane said one potential use is call centers, where the communication techniques of individual workers would need to be simulated to get an accurate model.

Fujitsu will test the software in businesses like supermarkets next year. It plans to eventually offer the analysis as part of its cash register business, which is run by subsidiary Fujitsu Frontech.

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