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Albertsons LLC Ditching Self-Checkout Chainwide

July 6th, 2011

Another problem with self-checkout has been a sharply growing number of product exceptions, which slows the lines. The early grocery self-checkout systems only needed to make exceptions for a handful of age-restricted items, such as tobacco, adult publications, condoms and alcohol. Today, those intervention-requiring—product lists have expanded to include a wide range of over-the-counter medications, plus bleach, vinegar and, in California, spray paint, among many other items, Buzek said. Some are for terrorism reasons and others are simply loss-prevention matters.

Albertsons is also removing the self-checkout lanes relatively slowly, doing it as stores are being remodeled, due to the costs involved with flooring and conduit.

With the self-checkout removed, what’s next? “We are removing all of the self-checkout lanes, but there isn’t a standard configuration that we’re replacing them with,” said Christine Wilcox, director of communications for Albertsons LLC. In some stores, self-checkout will be replaced with more express lanes, which is what Kroger is experimenting with. In other stores, Wilcox said, additional regular checkout lanes will be added. “It depends on the store and what that store needs.”

As for the reason for ditching self-checkout, that was more explicit. “We feel like having express lanes where a person can actually talk with a checker and have a conversation and check out their groceries” is a better approach, she said.

Self-checkout systems also suffer from something that few other IT systems have to deal with: the people operating the systems—consumers—have no training. And unlike other kiosks, such as airport ticket systems, bank ATMs or Redbox movie-dispensing kiosks, self-checkout systems tend to be rather tricky.

“Any time there’s a mistake between the databases, it requires an intervention,” Buzek said. “If the customer doesn’t put it on the scales properly,” it would also require an intervention. Indeed, when KMart halted its self-checkout lanes in 2002, Buzek said, it was because “they never trained or motivated their cashiers,” who are the only ones who could train consumers.

One of the intended advantages of self-checkout has been an element of privacy, where consumers might not want stores associates, who could easily be neighbors, to know what all of their purchases are. But whenever an intervention—whether it’s due to a customer error or a product that needs an employee’s approval—occurred, the privacy went away. And as interventions have become much more frequent, the privacy benefit has been diluted.


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