Kroger Testing A Self-Checkout-Less Grocery Store

Written by Evan Schuman
June 29th, 2011

The grocery space is the most significant retail area for self-checkout today, and $82 billion Kroger is the largest grocery chain in the U.S. It is, therefore, intriguing that Kroger is now doing a trial in Texas where it has redesigned a store to completely do away with self-checkout.

But Kroger—a 2,449-store chain in 31 states—is always a fan of experimentation, so this change might be more about trialing a new checkout approach and the removal of self-checkout might simply be a matter of freeing up space in a tightly designed store in an urban Houston, Texas, location. More meaningfully, though, it also reflects a POS approach conflict, with grocers today ambivalent about not only self-checkout but (both old and new) express lanes. It’s an age-old argument, but one that is still valid: Why not reward and incentivize your best customers, rather than those who buy the least?

(Related Story: Albertsons LLC Ditching Self Checkout Chainwide.)

Starting in late May, the “new” concept being trialed at the Kroger store on Montrose Blvd., which the chain is calling Metro registers, is little more than a snaking queue approach. Instead of customers with fewer than 16 items choosing a specific express lane, they line up for a group of express lanes, with each person being routed to the one that opens the soonest.

“The Metro registers are manned units that have the ability to check out customers three times faster than standard self-check lanes,” Kroger media spokesperson Keith Dailey said in an E-Mail. “This is a one-store pilot program in Kroger’s Southwest Division (Texas and Louisiana) that we are still testing and analyzing. As part of its remodel, the Montrose Kroger recently replaced its self-check lanes with Metro registers.”

Dailey wouldn’t elaborate on “three times faster,” so it’s unclear what that claim is supposed to measure. Is it from the time someone enters the line to when they leave the store? From when they enter the line to when they reach an associate at a POS? Does it only start when the consumer reaches the POS?

The term “Metro Express” is not being used as store branding, with the only sign visible saying “Express Lane. 15 Items Or Less.” The removal of self-checkout lanes is a sharp reversal for a store that, within the last year, increased its number of self-checkout stations 50 percent (from four to six), according to a store manager who asked that his name not be used.

Still, Kroger—like many other major grocery chains—sees the pros and cons of self-checkout lanes. Self-checkout clearly requires fewer associates, with one associate overseeing several of these lanes simultaneously.

But is it a benefit for customers?


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