We have all seen them and I’m sure most of us have used them. Since their implementation, retailers have had to deal with numerous concerns – certain barcodes that wouldn’t scan, oversized items, items without barcodes, and restricted items like Natural Ice Light (They should work on a way to make that double restricted). They also had to deal with a multitude of security issues. Customers would remove the barcodes of low ticket items and tape them to higher cost items. They could also place high ticket items like “Cool Runnings” on DVD into the most recent copy of the Weekly World News (Top Story: Man gives birth!), which is surprisingly a fraction of the cost of the DVD.
Despite some of these concerns, retailers adjusted their business accordingly and built these self-checkouts in almost every store across the country.
However, recent studies have shown customers are increasingly becoming dissatisfied with using these machines.
A recent study done by the Arlington, VA-based Food Marketing Institute found only 16 % of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes at stores that offer them. That's down from a high of 22 % three years ago.
Overall, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional cashier-staffed lanes.
Customers have become frustrated with the inability to use the technology, consistent equipment failure, and lack of responsiveness from the staff.
Big Y Foods, which has 61 locations in the New England area, has announced recently it was phasing out the self-serve lanes. Many other major retail chains have also either removed or reduced these self-checkouts and converted back to traditional staff run lanes.
Big Y conducted an internal survey and cited delays in its self-service lines caused by customer confusion over coupons, payments and other problems; intentional and accidental theft, including misidentifying produce and baked goods as less-expensive varieties; and other problems that helped guide its decision to bag the self-serve lanes.
Furthermore, retailers will eventually need to replace their checkout computers to read newly emerging types of bar codes, so if the self-checkouts are not providing increased customer service there's little business sense in keeping and replacing them.
Perhaps more importantly in the decision is the growing trend toward utilizing bar code-reading programs on smartphones, which is likely to change everything in supermarket shopping over time.
However, not all retailers agree with this trend. Home Depot and other similar retailers report success with their self-checkouts which may be due to the “do-it-yourself” attitude of their customer base. Therefore the success of these self-checkouts may not be dependent on the technology but come down to the demographics of the area.
It will be important for retailers to appropriately match the technology with their customer base.
Now that many retailers better understand customer preferences and how the technology impacts their business, they will (hopefully) make better decisions as to the best way to manage the check out process.