Posting in Design
Stores seek more high-touch over high-tech in a process bedeviled by high rates of errors and exceptions.
One of the ironies of technology is that it shifts manual labor to the paying customer. Consider all the self-service portals now in existence that require that customers do their own data entry -- travel sites, insurance policy applications, bank transactions, and so forth. But having customers doing their own work may not work so well all the time.
Such has been the case with supermarkets, where many have put in self check-out lanes, with customers doing their own bar-code swiping and bagging. Frankly, I'm quite happy to do that in busy stores. (Disclosure: my first job was working as a bagger at a US Army commissary store.) And it seemed as if self-checkout is part of the inevitable march of retail technology.
But reports are circulating across the Internet newssphere that a couple of leading supermarket chains are reconsidering customer self-service check-out lanes. For, example, Kroger is reportedly designing a new store in Texas that does not include self-checkout lanes. And, as StoreFrontBackTalk and the Associated Press reports, Albertsons LLC has started to remove the self-checkout lanes in all of its 217 stores in seven states. (This does not include the Albertsons/SuperValu stores based in the western United States.)
Kroger is moving toward more express lanes to pick up the slack. As Evan Shuman of StoreFrontBacktalk relates, at the core of supermarkets' decisions to move away from self-checkout is a desire to replace high-tech with high touch:
"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."
The high rate of errors and exceptions make self-checkout a more difficult proposition for end-users, versus simpler self-service systems. Another issue that while the volume of self-checkout items can be measured, it's difficult to measure the satisfaction of customers using these systems -- there is no audio capture for their growls of discontent wrestling with the machines that don't properly record coupons or bar codes.
Jul 15, 2011
I also love self-checkouts at a supermarket, for a reason which I haven't heard anyone else mention: I absolutely hate tailers who crowd me too close in a regular checkout line and insist on putting their merchandise almost on top of mine on the conveyor belt, as if that will expedite their progress through the line. I consider this an egregious violation of my personal space.
The fact that stores now have to post helpers nearby is a sign the system does not work as smoothly as it should. If everything you scanned were scanned the same way and it worked every time, that would be one thing. But, it's not that simple. Just depends on whether you'd rather figure it out and be on your way, or let someone else do it with no hassle.
I refuse to use the self checkout any more. I tried it... more than once. - If you have small items their scale doesn't recognize that you already put your item in the bag, and keeps prompting you and won't let you continue until you do... but you already did. - Likewise if your item is too large for the bag... more extra work. - They often have issues with payments. But the biggest reason of all... I have to checkout the groceries myself, bag the groceries myself, but I still pay the same price as having someone check them out and bag them for me. If I'm going to do your job for you, then I should get a price break. You want self-checkout to succeed? Give a price break to self checkers.
If you had a recorder you'd hear me complain when they don't work as well as I'd like them to and yet I still prefer having extra self checkout lines (which I almost always use) to the old days of waiting in line because of the limited number of cashiers available.
If I were a shoplifter I would love these machines. With only a little bit of effort it's easily possible to get at least one item at no charge. I'm not so I don't find any rational reason for using the machines. I won't get paid the fraction of the store cashiers wages for the time it takes to ring up and bag my purchases, I won't get a discount, and it does people out of jobs.
Many times my time is short and I'm not interested in customer service. Self checkouts serve my purpose well. People not aware of what's going on clog regular checkout lines (especially express lines) just as often in my experience.
I really love self-checkouts. I hate standing in line and I prefer to interact with the machine than with an actual person. As a result, I avoid businesses that don't offer self-checkouts in favor of those who do. I find self-checkouts extremely easy to use, unless you have a lot of coupons, in which case you should just use a regular register until they fix that horrible process. One of my biggest pet peeves is stores that have, say, 4 self-checkouts but keep 2 of them closed for the sole purpose of the funneling people through a line to try to make them buy more of the crap they sell at the registers. My satisfaction is always based on getting what I want and getting out of the store as quickly as possible.
I would hate to see self-checkout eliminated completely. It has its place, especially if people would be rational about checkout use and not try to use self-checkout when they should use one of the clerk stations. 5 or fewer items? - definitely self-checkout. Between 5 and 10 items? - self-checkout or express lane, depending on how busy the lanes are. Between 10 and 15 items? - definitely express lane. More than 15 items (especially if a full shopping cart)? - a regular clerk station, regardless of how long that takes (never takes that much extra time anyway, especially with the difficulty of using the self-checkout for a large number of items). Don't like the chatty people in line ahead of you? - do your major shopping during the store's slow times (late night, very early morning, whatever).
Whatever the reason these printable coupons or "Printapon" exist and it is valid to use them, although it can skew the marketing research for which they were intended.
Self-checkout is the best thing since sliced bread. I get 'processed' much faster. And this is one helluva way to get rid of that spare change. Saves couting it out to the cashier, and the cashier re-counting it. And I am only 72; computer literacy is not a pre-requisite here.
Why would anyone want to wait in line instead of first learning how easy it is to process your own checkouts and they doing it all the time. We have some very large retailers carrying in excess of 125,000 sku's per store with many unmarked items like fruits and veggies and yet using their product identification options it is easy and fast, far faster that waiting in line behind those who like to live in the past. Oh, it does not matter what one's age is in using these new tools. Today I took a retired gentlemen to the local retailer and he followed me out through the self checkout lanes and he also had a few items which he had to select from the product identification option screen. Now he is a retired engineer who had little experience with computers but being properly educated he did not hold back when it came to learning how to use what is new out there. Ok, now since I am at the food store and have no problems using their self checkouts I do have one questions which I have to ask someone who works in the applicable store: Where's the beef???
It's not the self checkout that is the problem...it's the proceedure that the customer must navigate in order to use the self checkout. You can't simply take a standard employee manned POS and give it to an untrained customer to use with no prior exposure. This will not work. You need to simplify the proceedure of the self checkout...it's amazing the level of imcompetance that stores exhibit in their lack of understanding of the customer experience! Look at the bag issue. Stores want you to use your reusable shopping bags, but when you hand them over to the cashier to use, they have no proceedure in place to use the bags instead of the store supplied bags...The employee stands the bag up on a makeshift shelf and it invariable flops over and makes a somewhat streamlined job almost impossible. Many times I've held the bag open so that the cashier can place the items in the bag. It's this level of "hey, here's a good idea" and then failing to fully implement it that is frustrating. We have a Giant food store in town that has personal bar-code scanners. I love the things...I grab the scanner, scan my purchases, place them in my reusable shopping bags *ONCE* then pay at the register. super fast and super effiicient. My problem comes when I scan an item and the price on the scanner is different than what it says on the shelf...Then when I get to the register, a coupon I'm using isn't recognized...so I invariably need to go to the customer service desk and process it there...negating any savings I gained by using the self checkout. So it's not the self checkout that's the problem, it's the proceedure...
A starting-level job as checkout is a foothold in 'retail', and many people like the contact and are very good at the challenge of dealing with customers and accurately determining purchases. In most cases, like WalMart, S-C is just a means of reducing jobs and shifting the load to the customer- without compensation. If stores can prove that this is not the case AND they reimburse me some % for my labor, then I will be happy to utilize their S-C system.
I definitely prefer self-checkout most of the time. It avoids the chatty person in line or the chatty check out person or the person wrestling with their kid to give the sucker to the checkout person to scan or the person who wants to argue about whether the coupon is valid for the item purchased or the person who can't find their checkbook, etc. It's just like pay at the pump: I absolutely despise a station that cannot keep the receipt printers stocked or their credit card swipe isn't working at the pump. If a station forces me to go inside to pay or get a receipt too often, then I'll skip that station. Our local Lowes home improvement store also has self-checkout and I'll always use that instead of the regular lines unless I have something ungainly. The only issue I have run into is the deactivation of the property tags before heading out. A couple of times those things haven't been deactivated and it sets off the alarm. If self-checkout isn't working well in some places, then it's probably a combination of system design issues and the local population. "Mature" folks seem to have the most problems and they can continue to use the staffed checkout lines, but let the rest of us checkout quicker with less hassle at the self-checkout.
I love self-checkout stores and will specifically seek them out, and avoid stores that don't have them when competitors do. The only problem I somewhat regularly had was the ones at Home Depot and Lowes that weigh the item to verify you aren't scanning and bagging different items, sometimes don't read correctly. I really loved how Albertsons' used to have handheld scanners you could use as you put items in your basket, and then you didn't have to scan anything when checking out, you just swiped your credit card at the kiosk, threw your items in a bag, and were on your way. When they were taken out is when I switched from Albertson's to Walmart or Tom Thumb. I don't understand skoeper's complaint, because almost none of the self-checkout units talk to you, they almost all just ding or zap when an item is read or not, and all feedback happens on the screen. I think if I had bad hearing loss I'd prefer self-checkout even more to having to interact with a checker. I also didn't have a problem with produce as it was a game for me to remember the 4 digit code for each of my produce purchases. I still remember vine ripened tomatoes is 4664. My biggest complaint about self-checkout is when stores (such as Lowes) don't have a checker manning the 4-6 self service lanes when you have problems. Sometimes I have to hunt someone down.
Why would anyone pay the prices for a full service grocery store and self check out....might as well stock a few shelves too.....i shop at both types, full service and discount. I kind of figure if the self scanning saved so much money the discount stores would be full of them. I was a store manager for a large full service store for many years. We put these things in and took them out in 6 months...actually hurt our bottom line.
I agree with skoeper that in most hands this process is slower and often requires intervention by the store operators. It is really a mess for non-barcoded stuff like produce. Being hard of hearing (me too) requires paying good attention to the screen. Besides, I actually enjoy the interaction with check out people - in some stores out West, such as Albertsons or Smiths.
One local grocery store chain with over 60 stores never went to the self-checkout isles. They have a well-trained staff of high school kids working the registers that keep local teen unemployment rates down while providing good customer service at a reasonable price. My company has hired kids out of there and found them to have great customer skills and are easily capable of handling the responsibilities of a 9 to 5 job. Some of them are now supervisors and managers for us.
There's self check out at "my" supermarket. It's made me appreciate that it's a lot harder to scan bar codes than I ever imagined before I started doing it myself.
I have a profound hearing loss and mostly read lips. Going thru the self check registers baffle me many times because I can hear the machine saying something but have no idea what it's saying. Rather embarrassing to have the cashier have to come over and tell me, so I avoid these lines at all costs.
...than doing my own checkout. And the "customer missing out on customer service" argument is only relevant if the store is providing good customer service, which many are not anyway.
The self check-out at BJ's talks a lot. It would not be bad if they put text on the screen at the same time, but I have seen people with perfect hearing and children in tow miss what the device said because of the little distractions.
You're lucky to live in an area where highschool kids will want a job at a grocery store register. Where I live, these jobs are usually left to the dregs of the population whose understanding of the english language leaves a lot to be desired. Heck, even ordering at the McDonalds is a gamble...You can't say "Number 1 please" but instead "numero uno por favor" Sad, really sad...and even then you have a 50-50 chance of getting something different than what you asked for.
Skoeper, I hear you, and totally agree. Although the "U-Scan" seemed like a good way to cut staff and 'speed' things up, it did not appear to achieve the "Bottom-Line" results. All my best to you in your endeavors to 'shop comfortably'. Thank you, Joe, for a job "well-done"! Don
@JohnMcGrew There was a cartoon recently where a man took his recylcing to the self recycling center, went to the bank drive-through to use his ATM, got his DVD from a kiosk, bought his gasoline at a self-sevice pump, and bought his groceries at a self-checkout. He then went home, where his teen-ages son was complaining that there were no jobs available for teens.
At least you get to practice different languages free of charge. Try living in London in one restaurant my friend uses there are young waitresses from at least 7 different European countries who do not understand jokes, just what is on menu. nice talking to them though I cant understand Lithuanian or Hungarian but not too bad in Spanish French & German, Russian & polish not too good either but then again many of their customers are from these country???s....
If you look at the data, you'll find that teenage unemployment fell off a cliff right after Congress last raised it in 2007 just as the economy started tanking. Correlation or causation? Does it even matter? If it costs just as much to employ an unskilled teen as it does a competent adult, then why waste time with teenagers? As I drove down my street today, I noticed some county workers repairing a sink-hole with a backhoe. I thought, "That's a shame. If they were only allowed to use just shovels, the county would have to hire at least 10 more workers to fix that hole, and there'd be far less unemployment around here." But why stop there? If we only allow the workers spoons, then it would possibly take a hundred or more of them to fix that hole. Why not do that?