The question is not if you should implement self-checkout options, but when.
Retailers struggle with the idea of implementing self-checkout machines because of two issues: cost and customer satisfaction. Installing just one self-checkout machine can cost from $30 000 to $60 000, which, for some retailers, can be a huge investment. In addition to heavy costs, customers and cashiers have resented the introduction of self-checkout machines in stores ever since the early 1990s. It’s 2019 and everyone has access to any service with their phone or laptop. People can click one button and have a product or service delivered right to their door. In the future, people won’t even have to click any buttons, Amazon Go, the grocery store of the future, will allow customers to enter the store, grab their items, and their credit cards will be charged automatically. Walmart has recently introduced a new cashier-less checkout option to compete with the idea of Amazon Go. Customers scan their items with their phone, receive a barcode to scan at a “fast-lane” station, which charges their credit card, then show their mobile receipt to an associate before leaving the store.
You Might Not Like It Now, But It’s Good For You In The Long Run
But a click on a browser or “grab and go” does not equate to scanning your groceries one by one using a machine instead of a person to do it for you. Almost in its 30’s, the self-checkout machine has evolved to a better standard than its first model, but still, people hold on to their reluctance to accept change. However, the direction of retail shopping continues to move further from traditional shopping towards automation and its inevitability becomes more obvious with a younger, but aging market. As a retailer, it is important to understand that though there is resistance to using self-checkout machines, there are steps that can keep your customers happy, your cashiers happy, and your profits happy.
Automation exists to make our daily lives easier. Instead of finding parking, walking to a store, making a purchase, then driving back home, you can buy most items on Amazon and have it delivered to your door in a matter of days. So why are people so resistant to self-scanning? Older generations and even the younger millennials absolutely refuse to use the machines in protest of having to do the work themselves with a machine that constantly repeats, “unexpected item in the bagging area” or “please wait for an attendant to assist you.” Their refusal supports the cashiers who fear losing their jobs to machines. And those who do try to use the machines and have a difficult experience with error messages, end up shoplifting their products, blaming the faulty machinery for being too difficult to use.
There’s No Welcome Wagon For Change
The introduction of self check-out machines isn’t the only change in grocery store routines that has sparked controversial debates. Grocery stores have remained the same since the transition between over-the-counter grocery orders from the 60s to the self-serve, retailer grocery stores they are today. The plastic ban initiative, a result of the increased awareness of climate change in the early 2000s, sparked a major backlash from consumers that still continues to this day. Over the years, understanding the direct results of single-use plastics has helped consumers gradually accept the transition from expecting free plastic bags to investing in reusable bags.
In the same way, it has taken time for more consumers to accept the technological change that self-checkout has introduced. People who have embraced doing everything from their mobile device look forward to what the self-checkout machine represents: a check-out free store. Amazon continues to work on its project, Amazon Go, where customers can enter a store, grab their items, and leave. The store, using cameras and motion detectors, automatically charges the customer’s Amazon account. Current stores are still far from that and continue to encourage self-checkout use for their shopping amongst the many other options like mobile pick up that technology brings. Self-checkout use improves convenience, profit margins, and customer service.
Getting Shopping Done In A Matter of Minutes Without Any of the Work
Loblaws and Walmart have introduced pick-up services where customers can choose the products they need online and then drive to the store to pick them up. Without needing to leave their car, customers either call or text a number to alert the store they have arrived and then an attendant loads the groceries into their car. This eliminates customers from having to enter the store and take the time to collect their items and wait in line to purchase them. This service requires a minimum purchase amount and works well for weekly grocery trips. However, not every customer needs that many items and chooses to go into the store to grab the item, buy it, and leave.
During the busy hours in grocery stores, usually after normal working hours and on the weekends, it’s difficult to find a cashier that doesn’t have an unbearably long line with customers waiting with a cartload of groceries when you only have a few items. The longest line up is the express checkout where customers who go over the limit, even just by one item, are chewed out by all the others in line either directly or through passive aggressive loud comments. The long wait frustrates customers and the fear of judgment for trying to slip through the express lane creates an uncomfortable situation for customers. The self-checkout section gives these people who want to avoid waiting around other frustrated people and a frazzled cashier the opportunity to quickly scan their items and go on their merry way.
Happy Experience, Happy Customers
A retailer’s goal for their stores revolves around keeping customers and employees happy while also maintaining a profit. Resistance to self-checkout revolves around the need for human interaction. Essentially, people like buying from other people. From its conception, customers have seen grocery shopping as social interaction and want to maintain human contact over machine contact. Cashiers are usually their main point of human interaction and provide a service, scanning their items and bagging them.
The work that goes into checking out customer after customer often does not balance the wages made. Unhappy employees can cause friction in your store and as a retailer, as much as you want to make your customers your priority, you need to placate the employees as well. The introduction of self-checkout can relieve the high volume of purchases from cashiers and boost their morale when talking to customers. Customers, on the other hand, also have the option to use the machines or to go to a cashier, thus satisfying all types of customers and their shopping habits. And until check-outs are completely eliminated, a balance between traditional cashiers, self-checkouts, and mobile ordering can improve your retail store.
Cut Costs, Keep Customers
A strong argument against self-checkout machines is that it takes jobs away from human cashiers. This is true to an extent and since paying wages takes up a large portion of a retailer’s cost, the investment in self-checkout machines can greatly reduce the wages that they have to pay. But on the other side, retailers can expand their store with a self-checkout section and with more customers, can hire attendants for the machines as well as more cashiers to appease customers who need to interact with a human. Technological advancements are morphing traditional retail grocery stores into an entirely new shopping experience that is seamless with fewer attendants and more scan and go technology. At this stage, with shopping habits that vary between generations, a mix of self-checkout and traditional cashiers can offset costs and give customers the freedom to choose between both options.
But What About Theft?
It’s easy to dismiss the self-checkout as a free-for-all, risk-free theft opportunity and while this holds true for about 20% of people, the majority of customers follow the honour system. Many people don’t try to steal to avoid the possible, even if rare, consequences of getting caught. As self-checkout machines evolve, so do the loss prevention technologies that come with them. The original message ingrained into people’s minds, “unexpected item in the baggage area,” works to gently remind people that they can’t just scan a $1 pack of gum in place of their bag of apples with the scale. In addition to this, there are now cameras at the top of the machines recording the customer’s experience.
Bold customers may still overlook these security tactics since only one person oversees self-checkout, but design tactics make stealing a little more difficult. Self-checkout customers funnel through a path into the small section helps attendants keep a close eye or let customers think that they are keeping a close eye on potential theft.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Change
The future of human-less grocery stores is inevitable, but there is still time. Soon, self-checkout will be a part of the norm and the transition will pass smoothly. The self-checkout machine is just one of the building blocks to an effortless future of picking up your items and leaving without having to scan a single item. The growing pains will be over and until then, your decision is to take a step towards the future and keep your customers and employees happy.