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?


17 Comments | Read Kroger Testing A Self-Checkout-Less Grocery Store

  1. Howard Says:

    The issue would be who buys the least at that transaction time. For example I may shop during the week and maybe spend $200. I may go in and get a sandwitch or salad of $10. What is going to happen is that I’ll be treated differently because I only spent $10. The problem I see is that if I am treated different and I do find out then I’ll just go somewhere else, we do have choice, right?

    If you want to attract business you treat everyone the same.

  2. Mr. Hedges Says:

    I stopped going to Kroger after numerous visits and filling a basket with well over $100 in groceries. I only ended up at the checkout with one lane open and 10 people waiting. Self-checkout takes away jobs. I will never use them. Krogers in N. Texas never have enough checkers or baggers!

    Market Street will put them out of business.

  3. Andrew Says:

    @mrhedges haha you are absolutely crazy to think that just because you, one person, will stop going to Kroger that market street will put them out of business. If you have not noticed Kroger is an 87 BILLION dollar business. If they really wanted to they will just buy this Market Street and laugh and count their BILLIONS. And your theory that self checkout takes jobs is also very laughable. If there are 6 self checkout lanes you still have 1 person working and even if those self checkout line were turned into full checkout lines you could only fit 1 or 2 lanes, do the math. Kroger has over 300,000 employees I would say that they are doing ok and providing plenty of jobs all across the country.

  4. Angela W. Says:

    You can’t reward people who are checking out with the most stuff because the idea is to get people out quickly! Who would want to line up in a line that said over 30 items? As Howard mentioned, customers who may often buy numerous items also come in for a one-off, and everyone likes to get out the door quickly when they have only a couple items!

  5. Jon Says:

    @mrhedges please also consider the people who make the self checkout equipment and maintain/install them….. there are tons of jobs created that normally pay better then a cashiers position just to produce them. and please also keep in mind average pay for manufacturing is around $11 an hour nation wide where the average for cashier/cash handling was around $7-8. Now for where Kroger is concerned they lost my business a long time ago so i really don’t care what they do.

  6. Terry Says:

    They definitely need more express lanes if they are taking away the self check out. Most of the people who use self check are the ones with the least products.

  7. WorW/Onuts Says:

    Though a Californian, I’d recommend
    doing whatever Wegman’s does.

  8. Mark Says:

    I used to go to this Kroger. No longer. I consider it to be a slap-in-the-face. Automated checkouts are great for customers but not for Kroger’s bottom line. If they want to make more money (and that is the whole point of anyone’s business) than try being abit more consumer-friendly! Shame on them for taking away convenience for their own selfish purposes. Think customer!

  9. Eric Rasmussen Says:

    Self check is a waist of my time and and the stores money. I see a hand full (or less) of people using them and since they are not customer intuitive the self check monitoring person twiddles while I wait in line at the check out line for customer service. Put that person behind the register. Banks try to do the same thing with coming along the long line and asking for straight deposits and they get tired of me telling them to quit wasting time and get behind the counter and start waiting on customers. I want and expect service which is why I walked out of Fresh Choice and never went back when I was directed to only self checkouts. The store (if any money is saved) does not lower the cost of it’s products for me doubling as a self check operator which so far I have refused to do and always make the self check monitor run my items for me and I swipe and key in my pin number. Another source of frustration is companies eliminating customer service trying to force (encourage) customers to use self checkout. If the grocer or other retailer really wanted to promote self check out they would offer a 15 discount for self check out due to the savings associated with manpower. Of course I am hoping the store does not take me up on my suggestion because if anyone was raised in the 60’s/70’s with “Firesign Theater” and the skit of the person trying to ask the computerized president a question without getting the appropriate acknowledgment or response may also realize computers are not always the answer with the exception of Google of course. Google Bozos on This Bus Side 2 You Tube.

  10. IHateRalph's Says:

    When I shop I want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. I am NOT looking for a social experience. I will only use a human checker if I believe it will be faster. Autochecking is MORE convenient for the most part. Since Ralph’s has gone on the frequent-remodel cycle, I have become more and more reluctant to shop there — the main reason I actually do shop there is that it’s the supermarket closest to my house. Prices are no longer lowest, the aisles are so long that I can’t read the over-aisle signs at the far end, and it’s a pain to have to look for things that I USED to be able to locate easily. You can NOT make my experience a pleasure; the best you can do is not make it painful.

  11. Rob Says:

    Labor @ $8/hr
    Cashier can handle 40 customers/hr. Actual cost per customer is 20 cents. On a self check out it probably cost about 5. Savings 15 cents per customer on labor. So how are they going to give you a 15 discount, when it’s saving them less than 1?

  12. Mark Feemster Says:

    Why is this an EXPERIMENT?
    Stores did it by hand for years, it is not rocket science.
    The self checkout is ok for small orders, but try running a bunch of produce that have no barcode or buy beer, you STILL have to show ID to the 19 year old drop out that stands there with his thumb up his wazzo while you do his job.
    Kroger, just add more checkers,simple as that.

  13. Jon Says:

    Suprised to hear the amount of complaints about self check outs. Home Depot now has robots to speed the experience of checking out. But I have seen so many videos of Americans setting themselves on fire at the gas station. To all the folks that find themselves as ‘part-time’ employees at grocery stores, I am curious who pumps your gas?

  14. rick Says:

    the only reason i shop at kroger is for their self-checkouts.

    i gave up on my old favorite grocery store because the knuckleheads manning the checkout lanes there were always loudly discussing their boss and their overtime and their work schedules — right in front of us customers!

    give me an automated way to get out of the store faster any day. if kroger loses its self-checkouts, it loses me.

  15. Bubba Diamonds Says:

    I suppose some people find the self checkout way too complicated. For them it is probably faster to go through the regular check out line. And some people are very lonely so, for them, the trip to the store to chat to some employees is probably the highlight of their day. I prefer to get in and out as quickly as possible. The only bad thing about self checkout is when I have to wait for an employee to push the age verify button when I’m getting some beer.

  16. charlie Says:

    My experience is being a past customer of Ablertsons in Louisiana. Albertsons recently removed all their self checkout lane, since then it has been a nightmare to purchase anything there and the reason I do not shop there anymore. I guess it would not be bad if the stores would train their employees to be able to know the difference between an apple and a pineapple so that it would not take 10 minutes to verify with the manager. The lines are long and very slow moving. Its quicker and less painfull just to pay a liitle more and go to Wholefoods, and since time is money, cheaper as well, and as long as walmart keeps their selfcheck out open I’ll get everything else there.

  17. SAL Says:

    I have never found a rude SCO employee at Kroger. They’re trained to be helpful and quickly responsive. On the other hand, I’ve encountered many rude full-service checkout employees. But then, I avoid SCO.

    This is not about having a social experience, folks. And we’re not all old fogies! I find it very efficient to have a skilled cashier check me out while I prepare my payment method (take note, slow pokes). And they usually bag quickly. If you’re not socially-phobic, it doesn’t hurt to be pleasant to the cashier, BTW. That doesn’t mean a conversation holding up the line.

    Most of all, pay these people more, and train them to be polite. The rare sulky ones should be dealt with. If your day is so busy and out of control that you don’t have time to exchange smiles, there’s something wrong with your life.

    Oh, and make people buying cigarettes go to Customer Service. That’s the biggest holdup I ever see in the full-service lane!


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