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The Latest Grocery Chain To Ditch Self-Checkout Adds Theft And Other Issues To The Debate

September 27th, 2011

Sometimes, it also speaks to the perceived pleasantness of store associates. After all, whether a self-checkout is seen as nicer than a staffed lane really depends on how the cashier is. Some cashiers, candidly, offer a nicer experience than self-checkout interactions while others don’t. Trader Joe’s, for example, pushes associates to be so customer-oriented that self-checkout would make little sense. But other chains could be a very different situation.

Another factor is the perceived speed of checkout. Almost all self-checkout systems have been designed with the goal of handling no more than 10 items. But almost no stores ever advertise that fact, fearing it would discourage shoppers with overflowing carts from using self-checkout. In fact, stores really should discourage such shoppers from using self-checkout, because it will quite likely deliver a subpar experience for that shopper and everyone in the line behind him/her.

The lack of training—and/or associate hand-holding—of customers is another factor. Self-checkout is like any new technology experience. The first couple of times it can be awkward, slow and unpleasant. Many consumers may not want to repeat that experience, not realizing that it will be a lot better once they get used to self-checkout and understand how it works.

It’s like working with a new operating system. In the very beginning, productivity plummets, because almost nothing is where your fingers expect it to be. But if you stick it out, within a week or two, productivity might easily exceed where it had been with the old system. (Unless it’s a Microsoft OS, in which case you’re toast.)

But a common retail self-checkout approach of “throw ’em in the self-checkout waters and hope most don’t drown” was probably not the best way to engender self-checkout fondness. Not all customers will resort to self-checkout fisticuffs, but a few will.

Longtime self-checkout watcher—and IHL President—Greg Buzek has even argued that smartphones could play a role in decreasing self-checkout kiosk sales.

That brings up perhaps the ultimate self-checkout decision. With all of today’s technology changes—mobile being just one, but a huge one—and the changing customer expectations of fast E-Commerce-like customer service, how much effort does self-checkout merit? To do self-checkout properly requires oversight—from both an associate and a loss-prevention perspective—marketing and a means of encouraging self-checkout-friendly items (fewer than 10 items, no age verification items, no limit verification, etc.). In the ROI struggle, how well will self-checkout do in 2012 and beyond?

“We have to continually look at our cost of doing business,” said Big Y’s D’Amour-Daley. “Does this work? Does that work?”

For the Big Y, the question of whether to get rid of self-checkout ended up being the Big “Why Not?”


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