2011.36 | Self-checkout is Alive & Well

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a rather surprising number of news articles on self-checkout.

Articles from Progressive GrocerCanadian GrocerCTVToronto StarToronto Sun as well as Independent Mail and more have been sent to me from friends, colleagues and customers.

Interestingly, some of the articles focused on a couple of retailers moving away from self-checkout to paint a picture of the retail industry minimizing self-checkout – a completely false perception based on my experience.

I won’t cite the fact that some of the statistics on usage are not quite right, and don’t jive with my experience working with retailers every day.  Forget that the reader survey on the page of one of these articles indicated that 42% of those who voted said that they prefer self-checkout.  I also won’t highlight the fact that a recent industry study indicates an expected increase in number of self-checkout solutions to be sold around the world.

While self-checkout may not be for every consumer or every retailer, self-checkout is not going away any time soon.   Why not?

  • Fit – Every retailer is different and their check-out strategies need to match their business. There is no one size fits all.  Some retailers will use it and some will not – the fate of an entire technology cannot be judged by the actions of a couple of players – whatever their situation or motivations.  To consider all retailers and their implementations the same misses the point.
  • Options – With all of the choice available, consumers want more options – not fewer.  The challenge for retailers is increasingly consumers want to do business their way.  Self-checkout, like all technologies, is about providing options to consumers – an option many customers (including me) want to use.   It’s always better to provide customers options, and retailers are aware of that.
  • Operational Integration – Some retailers that have implemented self-checkout particularly well have made it a true part of their business in one way or another. Anything that continues to provide operational and consumer benefits or a competitive advantage to a business will continue to be used.
  • Leveraging Multiple Technologies –  The options available for checkout are expanding, but no one option will suit all customer needs.  Today, assisted point of service and self-checkout are the primary platforms in North America.  There are even some stores moving to self scanning with a consumers own device.  I fully expect that one day associates in a store could use their own mobile devices to check customers out.  While these new technologies are wonderful, they don’t serve every need of every retailer or consumer, so the likely scenario is that self-checkout will co-exist with assisted service and mobile platforms.  Radio was to supplant live theatre, TV to replace radio, and the internet to eliminate TV, and yet they all co-exist today, and have even merged in various ways.  Like these technologies, expect self-checkout to be part of a store eco-system in the future, coexisting with mobile and assisted technologies; most likely blending with them in different footprints and uses.
  • Better Service – SCO can provide the personal touch and better service that all retailers wish to attain.  It is no different than any other technology in a store.  It is run by people – those people make the difference.  When they are doing it right they educate users in avoiding errors, getting ahead of issues and just helping people.   All of these things can be done with the same friendly hello and interactions you can expect in any assisted service environment. It’s all about people – but with no waiting.

Like any other retail solution, there have to be benefits to both consumers and retailers.

At the very crux of the matter, retailers want operational benefits and efficiencies.  People want options to get what they want and to get out of store as quickly as possible.

Self-checkout provides both to many retailers and many people.  Period.

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