The self-checkout continues to be the subject of fierce debate within the retail community. The controversy is propelled by the multiple dimensions of the issue to retailers, manufacturers and shoppers. Do you believe self-checkouts undermine or support exceptional customer service? [more...]
Self-checkout has a valuable role to play in many retail environments. In any shopping population, you’ll have a segment of shoppers that wants a self-service experience, and a segment that wants an assisted one. The best experience for both of those segments is to give them what they want!
Often, the same shoppers will want both experiences depending on their mission. Are you buying a lot of produce and bulk items and don’t want to enter the item codes? Go to a full service lane where they will do it for you. Need a quick quart of milk (or something to treat an embarrassing medical condition), you’ll probably want self-service.
The key is to understand the needs of both types of shoppers and meet them. There is always a balancing act between up-selling and speed of transaction. If the population in the self-checkout line has already expressed a preference for speed of checkout, then you need to be extra sensitive to things which slow it down (like affinity enrollment, promotion redemption, and up-sells).
Just throwing self-service terminals in a store designed for full service is a recipe for failure. My local Safeway is only 4 years old (designed well after self-service became a standard feature in Safeway), yet there is no queue management for the self-service terminals. Customers queue up in one of the product isles, making it impossible to take a cart down the isle or shop the products on those shelves. That’s an expensive mistake for the products on those shelves.
Another interesting aspect is loss prevention. We’ve now seen high profile arrests of fraudsters targeting self-service checkout in numerous chains. That is only likely to get worse as stores move to in-aisle self-service checkout.
At the end of the day, self-service definitively has a place. The most successful retailer in the world (Apple) now offers in-aisle self-service checkout in all of its stores.