Self Check This Out, Redux

In my last e-newsletter I asked for your opinion of self-checkout units in the light of Albertsons LLC's decision to eliminate all self-checkout units from its stores. You didn't disappoint. Below are more than a dozen responses of retailers, suppliers, and others allied to the industry on whether they think self-checkout units are a blessing ... or a curse.

Overall, their sentiments mirrored mine (I love when thawt happens!) -- that when it comes down to it, it is not so much the technology in itself that determines its success, but rather how the operator deploys the technology.

Thanks so much for your responses!

And here they are:

After a work day of looking at a PC machines, listening to an automated call service, and pumping my own gas, I would like some personal interaction and customer service. Is retailing just a business transaction or business transaction built upon trust and loyalty? Self check can be efficient if transactions are few and simple…but is the trade off worth missing another human interaction possibility? Today’s business of right sizing, and lean environment misses the point that great customer service is key to bringing you back to that store, or business. By continually cutting personnel and replacing with machines you lose that human interaction that we look for; we humans are not machines -- we have bad days, we get ill, we have relationship problems, financial problems. A machine cannot fix or temporarily alleviate those problems, but a helpful checkout clerk or store employee can leave a positive lasting impression with simple assistance or friendly smile to bring you back to that store and make your day not seem so bad. Can a machine do that?

-- Finance manager, national grocery chain

Your comment, “Me, I’m a big believer in choice, and that the customers should dictate exactly how they shop your stores,” assumes that the retailer will continue to provide full service checkouts for those of us who prefer the personal touch at the end of our shopping experience. In my rural market I have found that those retailers who have experimented with Self Checkouts reduce their support for the alternative to encourage shoppers to “do it yourself”. I have seen lines form at the manned checkouts at a local Wal Mart as clerks try to coax shoppers to these self checkouts and I am sure in your eyes the lemmings just stand and wait to have a real person process their order.

-- Midwest POS vendor

Simple explanation about those checkouts that are successful and those that are not: "It's the indian, not the arrow." The only thing that causes success or failure is people, not technology.

-- Community-based independent


Self checkout is a Godsend. No more disinterested cashiers or poorly packed bags. Best of all I won't feel like a cheap societal outcast when I refuse to contribute to the charity of the week. I contribute a good amount each year to deserving charities. Being hounded each time I make a trip to the Grocery store is not appreciated.


-- Industry member


I work for [a wholesaler] and purchase equipment for independent retailers. We have several owners that have had great success with self checkouts. Typically this has been for the larger size stores and is considered a extra service to customer and not a replacement as you stated.

I have to question why Albertson's is committed to removing lanes as a way to say they are going to provide better service or because of maintenance cost on keeping all lanes in operation. There is not much that go wrong with a standard checkout, belts, scanner, etc.

Lately , I have had a few of my smaller store owners consider self checkouts, but they typically back out because of upfront cost.

Again, it's a add to store operations and not a replacement.

A good example of bad service with self checkouts is going to Home Depot and they have regular checkouts and self checkouts, but the only have self checkouts running forcing customer to have no options.

-- Midwest wholesaler


I agree with your comment regarding choice, Joe. My store of choice is Fred Meyer, a one-stop retailer in Oregon and Washington. I check out at a manned station when I have large, bulky items, items to be picked up at a load-out door, or when I have a large order (my last shopping trip was seven re-usable bags), which the self-checkout carousels don’t handle well. Otherwise, even with three or four bags of merchandise; I can scan my loyalty card (including e-coupons), scan or enter my items, swipe my card and I’m done. A real time-saver.

-- Industry member

This is a good question. If I were a major chain, with stores in the 40,000 sq.ft. size and over - had the space to give, I would leave at least two isles/registers for self check out. There are people who like being able to jump through those self serve check outs and be on their way. I think the move that Albertson's is making, removing all of these registers is extreme and they will get negative kick back from clients who prefer the convenience. The big operators have plenty of opportunities to boost relationships with their clients shopping experience, simply because of their size, traffic, number of employees etc. Providing one or two self check out bays is simply giving their customer a nice option.

The smaller shops, like Fresh & Easy, should stay as far away for this option as they can. They need to work on elevating skill-sets of their check out people at their register to create the best and most engaging last minute experience with their shopper they can deliver. They need to personalize their experience with their costomer, as much as a Trader Joes, who is the master of that behavior at this time.

Off the top, that's where I'm at.

                                                                                                                                                                  -- Technology vendor


Great article. I also believe in choice. So much that I talk it every day.

“Choice" is a leading driver behind the push for customer self order solutions for the deli, as well. Much like the banking industry where customer service is a key differentiator, the choice to bank whenever, wherever, however is at the heart of many marketing campaigns.

Grocery retailers gain when customers have the choice to shop whenever, wherever, and however they want.

My company helps grocery retailers let their customers dictate exactly how they shop for deli items. Whether it’s Online or Smartphone Ordering; iPad® Mobile Employee Assisted Ordering; or traditional Freestanding Kiosks; we can deliver.

We’re doing everything we can to help our customers become the deli of choice for all area shoppers. Keep the great articles coming.
                                                                                                                                                              --In-store technology vendor


I was a store manager for Safeway / Vons before SCANNERS were even incented, much less self scanners…..

I retired at age 45 in 1999 after 28 years (enough!!) and my wife is still a checker at Vons in San Diego. Vons never got into self checkout down here – not sure about Safeway nationwide. My Costco installed 4 self checkout lanes about a year ago, and, as a consumer – I loved it! The lines were much shorter, and being grocery veteran, I am able to scan my own stuff rather quickly. At Costco, you could only use American Express or debit cards; cash was not an option.

Lo and behold, about 4 weeks ago, I was in my Costco, and all the self checkout lanes were gone. When I asked why, I was told there were issues, and that much labor was required to assist customers in the process. My take on that – stupid customers………. ?
                                                                                                                                        -- Buyer, community-based independent


I’m going to speak on behalf of myself as a customer (not a retailer). I’m a fan of self checkouts. I can’t believe some stores don’t offer them like Target. Hello, get keep up with retail! I like the self-checkouts when I have just a few items. There are no lines and I can’t mess up the bagging. When I have a full week’s worth of groceries, I prefer to have help checking out and bagging. I can see the self-checkouts replacing the express lanes. Express lanes always have long lines and seem like a thing of the past compared to self checkouts.

                                                                                                                                              -- Employee of national grocery chain

I'm with you. I would rather have the choice of checking myself out. Most of the time I use this technology. It may not even be quicker to get out of the store. But at least I am in the process of helping get something accomplished instead of just standing there for 10 or 15 minutes. It may take the same amount of time, but I am involved in the process. I like that better.

                                                                                                                                                        -- Industry member


Good article Joe…I myself use self-check (since my team created Airport self-check-in back in 1982) and do find the service level an issue. The user interface is still too complex and maybe RFID tech will change that. Keep up the great reporting and writing.

                                                                                                                                            -- VP, retail technology vendor


I don't believe that self checkout is on the way out. I work for a POS company and KNOW it's not on the way out. Look at the source of the grocery store eliminating their self checkout systems. Have you personally ever shopped at Albertson's and used their self checkout? It's ridiculous! Their machines are so small, not to mention half of the items that you scan don't work on their scanners. They do not have an efficient self checkout model which works well for their stores, so I understand why they are taking self checkout out! They failed to grasp the concept of efficiency and ease for the customer. When you go cheap on the checkout system model and choose the most non-logical layout, of course it will fail! I guarantee if they were to change the layout/ general design of the self checkout systems (not to mention maintaining their scanner/scales) they might see better results! It is also said that your best cashier should be manning the self checkout because they are really manning 4 stations, not one. In more cases than none, I have not experienced that with Albertson's.

                                                                                                                                                            -- POS technology vendor

Staffed check-out lanes create jobs! They are even great loss prevention functions (which help off-set the extra costs in employee hours.) I also enjoy a little conversation while I am heading out of the store.

                                                                                                                                                        -- Midwest independent retailer

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