Albertsons LLC Ditching Self-Checkout Chainwide

Written by Evan Schuman
July 6th, 2011

In what might be the first hints of trouble for grocery self-checkout, the 217-store Albertsons LLC grocery chain confirmed Tuesday (July 6) that it is yanking self-checkout systems from all of its stores because of a “very high focus on customer service.” This comes on the heels of word from Kroger that it is experimenting with a self-checkout-less store design and an IHL report last week that “Publix continues to be on the fence” of self-checkout.

Sources within both Kroger and Albertsons LLC cited the same self-checkout concern, which is that many customers perceive it to be less customer-service-oriented than staffed checkout lanes. Also, an increasing number of products require staff intervention, and that—coupled with consumers making errors in using the systems—can slow the self-checkout lines dramatically.

Albertsons LLC has stores in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Utah, and its headquarters is in Boise, Idaho. Its Utah stores are called SuperSaver. To be clear, Albertsons split into two chains five years ago and the other chain—also known as Albertsons but without the LLC—is now owned by Supervalu. Supervalu’s Albertsons have not said they are abandoning self-checkout.

Greg Buzek, president of the IHL Group and arguably the most veteran analyst of self-checkout systems, said some of the decisions about self-checkout are strongly driven by customer demographics, which is why self-checkout will work so well for certain stores and more poorly in others. “It’s not as popular among those shoppers who are 65 or older. Some of those people remember when the store owner used to know their name,” Buzek said.

It’s also difficult to evaluate how well self-checkout is doing, given that it can’t be done solely by looking at how many transactions self-checkout lanes are processing. Some of those customers might be using it but are very unhappy doing so and actively plotting to start shopping at a direct rival.

In the perception versus reality realm, a problem with self-checkout has been the perception—reinforced often by local media and even some political leaders—that the systems contribute to unemployment. Most grocery retailers deny such suggestions, arguing that it’s difficult enough to hire and retain associates and that those associates are merely being deployed to more service-oriented parts of the business, such as in Deli, offering free samples or even carrying customers’ bags to their cars. But the perception—even when unfounded—has caused resistance from areas with substantial union member populations, Buzek said.


21 Comments | Read Albertsons LLC Ditching Self-Checkout Chainwide

  1. Conrad J Rowland Says:

    As UK retailers continue to roll-out self-checkout systems we can only hope that they too read of the experiences as described in this article. Self-checkout serves an important role – convenience, speed – if the customer knows how the process works and no errors are made that require interventions. The moment an intervention is necessary these advantages are lost – indeed I have seen customers abandon the process and leave the store in frustration (and count myself amongst that group). Innovative, consumer centric retailers will realise the necessity to find the balance and will target the checkout experience as an integral part of the overall shopping experience – it is afterall the least enjoyable part in any event – are we not always anxious to find out how much more we have spent than budgetted? Reassuring the shopper that the retailer cares throughout the process by offering a series of alternative solutions to the checkout process is surely as integral to the experience strategy as product and merchandise ranging.

  2. Ray Allen Says:

    Interventions are definitely an issue. If the customer perceives there will be an intervention, they will typically avoid Self Checkout. If they get caught in one at Self-checkout, they can get frustrated. Proper Training of a self-checkout associate on how to deal with an intervention is key.

    Self-Checkout should have always been about choice. Unless your regular lanes are backed up or completely unstaffed, the consumer has a choice. The real issue is the lack of a good incentive to use self-checkout.

    I can’t understand why in this economy, with consumers actively searching for ways to shop smarter and willing to work to get a deal, that these retailers haven’t responded to customer requests to provide a benefit for using self-checkout. There should a reasonable loyalty program incentive available. Providing a Loyalty based incentive for a consumer to use a self-checkout terminal seems like an easy way for a retailer to help satisfy this consumer desire.

  3. Nathan Says:

    Isn’t great customer service really about helping a shopper the way they want to be helped? While some want human interaction, many prefer technology solutions such as self-checkout. Studies are now showing over 70% of smartphone users prefer using their phone for help in a store vs an associate. There are many types of shoppers and it seems retailers should look at the entire picture. Removing these kiosks will likely deter more shoppers than it helps

  4. Bob LeMay Says:

    Another side to the problem of interventions is the possibility of getting caught behind someone who requires an intervention–either due to the product issues mentioned in the story, or due to unfamiliarity with the self-checkout process. I find myself only using self-checkout if there is a lane free, I only have a small number of items, and I know that the products I have are unlikely to require intervention.

    I also agree that a small incentive might make more people consider self-checkout.

  5. Jon Says:

    I think retailers have made bad decisions in the way they utilized SCO. For example, at certain times of the day having ONLY SCO open, but staffed with an associate where you have no choice but to ring up your 80 items in the SCO lanes while the associate watches you and just handles the interventions.

    And yes – adding a discount for SCO would be a major boon.

    Ultimately you should have the CHOICE of which to use. Which one is better for YOU as the consumer.

  6. Peter Says:

    I agree that the major cause for disenchantment with self-checkout systems is caused by interventions. In many cases interventions result from poorly written programs that often do not view decision-making factors from the customer’s perspective. To help reduce interventions retailers should ‘debug’ their software to make it more user-friedly. I also feel that instituting “frequent self-checkout” incentive programs will encourage customers to use the self-checkout more frequently. With the tremendous success of the Frequent Flyer programs, let’s see if we can come up with a catchy and fitting name as a self-checking promotion. Please send in your suggestions. Who knows, a new incentive program may be launched! (Example: Self-check for $Check$.)

  7. Steve Sommers Says:

    Personally I like having the option of self check-out and I feel that eliminating the option is a mistake and will not enhance customer service. Nothing ticks me off more than standing third, fourth, or fifth in line with a gallon of milk while the customer in front exercises his/her “enhanced customer service” by chatting away with the clerk or sending the clerk off on a wild goose for a carton of cigarettes tucked away in a vault somewhere.

  8. Bethany Says:

    I agree with the previous posters. I would love to use self checkout and avoid the fake chit chat at the cash register. But have you ever tried to use your reusable bags at the self checkout? Impossible! (at least at my grocery store). One maddening experience was enough. I’ll never use them again if I can’t be green and use my reusable bags.

  9. Aaron Says:

    Another mistake contributing to the downfall of Albertsons. It seems it is all about the company and not about what the consumer wants. Joe is rolling in his grave. Self-Checkouts are important to those customers that don’t want to deal with slow checkers who constantly have to get management approval for some little thing. Self checkouts are much faster and no lines and waiting. Maybe Albertsons should concentrate on their pricing first and get the customer into their store to shop before deciding how to get them out.

  10. Scoop Says:

    Wow! Self checkout at Albertsons is the only thing that makes going into that store bearable. Their lines and customer service otherwise is terrible. They have these “3’s a Crowd” banners everywhere indicating that they will open a new line whenever there are more than 3 people in line, but I consistently see lines wrapped around in the aisles. Although Albertsons is my closest store, I will most likely stop going there once my beloved self-checkout is gone.

  11. Tom Mahoney Says:

    I wonder if merchants have any idea of the shrinkage from self checkout. If the average low-tech thief knew how easy it is to fool those things, they’d have a ball.

    About a year ago, with management approval (because they insisted it couldn’t be done) and while they watched, I was able to “steal” a $40.00 hi-intensity halogen lamp and several other small items. The system never caught it. A good checker would have seen every item.

    Yes, management did check my bags and “stolen” items were returned. No, I won’t say how I did it in a public forum.

  12. Allen Says:

    I think Peter’s idea of a Frequent Self-checking reward program is great!!! I feel that rebating customers with a discount or credit would encourage people to use the self-check facilities more often. Here is a suggested simple name for Peter’s Self-Checking program: Self-checking Rewards Program. (SRP).

  13. Paul Says:

    I like self checkout. I almost always use it. At Harris Teeter if I have a reusable bag I just put it on the scale and press the ‘My Bag’ button. No problem. Harris Teeter always has an associate to help with a beer or wine purchase.

  14. Mike Says:

    What, are you all SCO employees in some fashion? Intervention my foot. Tell it like it is, the things do NOT work well even if the smartest customer does exactly as required. Customers also do not like being b*tched at by a machine BTW.
    I am computer savy and a seasoned shopper to say the least and have yet to use a SCO lane where your so called “intervention” was not needed.
    Fortunately one chain in my area already removed the things. Why? customer complaints! There were so many “Interventions” needed over a years period that other store functions were lacking due to the staff needed to handle the “Interventions.”
    Plain and simple, SCO’s suck. Another Bill Gates example of putting technology out in the public before it performs as expected.

  15. Deeli Says:

    I’ll venture to bet that another reason the SCO’s are being removed is because of cheater theft. I’ve seen situations where the intervention employee was busy at a second kiosk so was unable to see that an unscrupulous customer at the other was only ringing up part of their purchases. Hmmm, makes me wonder if both customers might be in cahootz?

  16. SAL Says:

    It’s gotta be the consumer theft. There was an enormous investment in putting those things in. And the “rewards” option (which some of us advocated from the beginning) was never even seriously considered.

    I don’t use them unless forced, so don’t notice shenanigans, but it only makes sense that the stores are losing some serious money on that. Between using your own bags, juggling a half-open purse and keeping it off the scale, juggling eyeglasses (not so necessary just to sign your name at the full-service counter), and juggling a credit card, what’s not to like about SCO? And yet, in my store, there’s often a long line waiting at SCO, but almost instant service at the fully staffed counters. I’m often out the door while they’re still waiting. People seem to get hypnotized by the option of playing with the technology themselves. It’s a misconception that just because you get to be in control of the process, it always moves along faster. Our technological infatuations and impatience backfire sometimes. There’s bound to be a backlash when they take them out though.

  17. SAL Says:

    Oh, and BTW, I’d bet that all the reasons we’re reading about for abandoning SCO are carefully crafted by the public relations departments of these grocery chains. It’s gotta be about store theft. Cynic I am . . .

  18. Ron Says:

    I love self checkout. No lines…

  19. Misssuz Says:

    i just called corporate to tell them they were losing me as a customer. I didn’t mind paying albertson’s convenience pricing because I could get in and out in less than 5 minutes. Now, I have to stand in line.

    If I have to stand in line, walmart is less than a 1/4 mile away and their prices are half that of Albertson’s.

    So I guess albertson’s is doing me a favor by forcing me to go where the cheaper prices are anyway,

    This was a horrible customer service move.

  20. Misssuz Says:

    Other posts have me thinking…. Way to go, Albertson’s…. Your decision costs me time and now I am suspicious that corporate is lying about the real reason why they look SCO away,

    The reason has to be theft. That is the only reason that makes sense,

  21. Steve Sommers Says:

    I know this is an old story but I just read this article in the NRF STORES magazine:

    The key quote: “But most stores are finding that freeing up staff to work more closely with customers makes more sense.” This contradicts the premise of a “very high focus on customer service” that supposedly justified the removal of the self-serve kiosk.


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