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Is Self-Checkout on the Decline?


A few years ago, self-checkout was the next big thing. The prediction was that self -checkout would be the norm rather than the exception, but the glitches in the systems, higher rates of theft, and lack of assistance when needed has seen slower growth of the once esteemed technology.

In an effort to cut labor costs, Wal-Mart and Target are adding self-checkout stations at most of their stores. Sam’s Club is doubling their units, while Costco has been eliminating them since their CEO Craig Jelinek claimed that cashiers could ring up merchandise more quickly.

Clearly, the lines are divided, depending on which survey you read and what stores you talk to. An independent survey conducted by Cisco showed about 52% of respondents favored self-checkout. According to NCR Corp., roughly 56 percent of consumers use self-checkout when it is available. In that survey, 25 percent of self-checkout users said they would shop at their preferred grocery store less frequently if self-checkout were not an option.

While Costco and Sam’s Club/Wal-Mart have reputations for low prices, each chain has a different philosophy. Membership cost for Sam’s Club is cheaper than Costco’s. And Costco has been deemed the ‘anti-Wal-Mart’ for its higher demographic shoppers and for employee-friendly pay and benefit policies.

According to Reuters, Wal-Mart spends $12 million every second on cashiers’ wages at its American stores. Self-checkout units are an obvious way to let customers know that the company is investing in keeping its overhead down. And admittedly, some people like the convenience and perception of do-it-yourself ‘independence’ self-checkout offers. Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman Ashley Hardie commented, “We continue to add them based on customer feedback. Self-checkouts ensure more lanes and a faster checkout. Customers are also telling us they like the option from a privacy standpoint, if they're buying personal items.”


Additionally, Wal-Mart is testing a scan-and-go checkout option on their mobile app where customers can scan prices on items as they shop. Customers can then scan a QR code at a checkout that will wirelessly transfer the list of scanned items to the register.

On the flip side, self-checkout attracts shoplifters, because the units aren’t monitored closely. According to an article in USA Today, “Theft—intentional or not—is up to five times higher with self-checkout than when cashiers are working.”

National Retail Federation expert Richard Hollinger said that while many retailers won’t admit it, the reason some are dumping self-checkout is precisely because of theft.

And let’s look at the 48% in the Cisco survey who clearly indicated they hated the self-checkout concept. Some units are poorly designed or made, which can lead to great frustration by the user. Case in point: Recently, a Wal-Mart customer who told police he was angry because the machine wouldn’t work and he couldn’t get any assistance, allegedly punched a self-checkout machine causing over $800 in damages.

Ikea scrapped its self-checkout kiosks last year after finding that hard-to-use scanners meant it took longer for people to check out, often requiring a cashier’s assistance, to help them complete the checkout process.

Many supermarket chains have either gotten rid of or will be scrapping their self-checkouts, like Jewel-Osco, Hy-Vee, Big Y and Albertsons (outside of California).

Self-checkout scanners can run into roadblocks when confronted with certain items like fruits and vegetables. Some supermarket produce is tagged with small stickers carrying product-lookup codes, but a lot of stuff isn't. It's the human cashier’s job to tell the difference between romaine lettuce and green peppers, and then to remember the proper code.

There are other reasons shoppers don’t care for self-checkout. Many Want the personal interaction with store employees, or feel that self-checkout means they’re doing the cashier’s job for free. And that’s not exactly endearing customers to stores who champion the concept.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers,
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