“It hasn’t delivered”: The shocking fallout from self-checkout - Cafeqa

“It hasn’t delivered”: The shocking fallout from self-checkout


The original plan was to completely change the way people shopped with its automated checkout lanes. These days, self-checkout kiosks are hot commodities, sought after by stores and consumers alike.

People patiently waiting in line to use a self-checkout kiosk as one shop employee fixes many broken machines is a typical scene at many retailers. In the backdrop, a dozen cash registers that are darkened, roped off, and without a cashier are adding to the growing irritation.

The idea of self-checkout was to make shopping easier and faster for customers. In the eyes of retailers, it would mark the beginning of a golden era of bargains. Since consumers may save money by scanning and bagging themselves at self-service registers, they reasoned, why pay for six workers when you can only pay one to supervise them?


There are some good ideas behind self-checkout technology that might benefit both companies and customers, but thus yet, it hasn’t delivered. People are still waiting in line. They need the assistance of shop workers to resolve kiosk issues or verify their age for products with age restrictions. Having employees available to assist customers and maintain the equipment is still necessary for stores.

Sometimes the technology causes more problems than it solves.


“It hasn’t provided anything that it promises,” remarks Christopher Andrews, an associate professor and head of sociology at Drew University, US, and author of The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets, and the Do-It-Yourself Economy,” Shops considered this a potential new market niche… Costs associated with labor may be reduced if consumers were persuaded that [self-checkout] constituted an improved shopping experience. The problem is that individuals either need assistance or are willing to steal if they aren’t given it. That they’re really losing money, rather than saving it, was the last realization they reached.

Bagging area encounters unforeseen challenges

According to Andrews, self-checkout technology was first created in the 1980s and began to be used in shops in the 1990s. Since then, several retail corporations have spent millions, if not billions, of dollars in it. Stores can’t precisely afford to purchase them: a four-kiosk system might cost six figures, according to some experts.

Many stores are turning their backs on the technology, even though it’s expensive to set it up. Take Target as an example; they’re limiting the amount of things that shoppers may buy at the self-checkout lanes. To prevent shoplifting, Walmart has taken down certain self-checkout kiosks. Booths, a UK grocery chain, has reduced the number of self-service kiosks in its shops due to consumer complaints about their slowness and reliability.

One of the most rapidly expanding US businesses, Dollar General, is also reevaluating its approach. In 2022, the bargain retailer put a lot of faith in self-checkout technology; in certain regions, you may find a single or double person working the whole Dollar General shop. According to the company’s CEO, Todd Vasos, they are now aiming to expand the number of personnel in shops “and in particular, the checkout area” despite the investment.

We had leaned and begun to rely too much this year on self-checkout in our shops,” he remarked during the company’s Q3 2023 results call on 7 December 2023. “We should be using self-checkout as a secondary checkout vehicle, not a primary.” Dollar General declined to comment when contacted by the BBC.

Loss rates for stores using self-checkout equipment are twice as high as the industry average, according to some research.
Retailers are rejecting the unmanned tills because of theft, according to some. When interacting with a self-service kiosk, customers can be more inclined to skim rather than pay for their items than when interacting with a real cashier. Retailers who use self-checkout systems have loss rates that are double the norm for the industry, according to some research.

Not only does self-checkout raise shrinkage problems, but experts also claim that the technology often fails to provide the savings that firms had hoped for. It would seem that Dollar General is going to increase employment expenses by adding more people to its checkout sections, and other corporations have followed suit. More than 3.3 million cashiers are employed throughout the United States, despite the widespread use of self-checkout kiosks in the last decade or so, according to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Robots or people?

Customers are eager for this technology to be functional, thus they enthusiastically adopted it. Yet, even after all these time, customers still have to wait in line to pay, get help from shop employees when they have questions about their order or need to verify their age, and look everywhere for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion PLU code.

When given the option, 60% of customers in a 2021 study of 1,000 American shoppers preferred self-checkout over a staffed checkout lane; yet, 67% of the same consumers reported experiencing technological failures when attempting to utilize self-checkout.

Businesses are looking to save money, while customers are just trying to get their money’s worth. People will look for alternative solutions if self-checkout doesn’t work.

I don’t think self-checkout is inherently good or harmful… An assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas, Amit Kumar, analyzes consumer behavior and decision-making. He argues that if people test self-checkout and realize it doesn’t benefit them, they could return to not using it.

As long as consumers continue to have issues with the technology, it seems like that will remain the case. Stores may shift tactics, as seen by Dollar General and others, but sunk costs mean that many major chains will likely maintain kiosks in-store, according to Andrews. “They spent billions putting it in stores, and are hoping they can still get the public to buy into it,” according to him.

Even while many stores will keep using self-checkout lanes, not all of them are betting the farm on this technology. On the contrary, they are increasingly letting clients choose between human and computer interactions.

According to Andrews, there is one element that will remain constant for clients who want to do the labor themselves. It doesn’t matter how common the technology is or how used customers acquire to using the kiosks; buyers will still likely experience disappointment and frustration on a regular basis.

“It was part of a larger experiment in retail in trying to socialise people into using it,” according to him. “Customers hate it” is the simplest approach.

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