Are self-checkouts causing shopper frustration?

Oct. 16, 2013 | by Natalie Gagliordi

Out of the entire array of retail technology, self-checkout seems to catch the most flak. Some label it a job-killer (RIP, cashiers). Others liken it to brief, unwanted employment at a supermarket (except the customer pays to work).

And according to a new survey, consumer aggravation with the devices could be impacting a retailer's sales.

Research from the retail technology company Tensator found that one out of every three shoppers (out of nearly 400 polled) has walked out of a store without the goods they intended to buy — simply because of a bad experience with a self-service checkout.

The findings also revealed that 84 percent of those questioned needed staff assistance when using a self-service checkout and 60 percent of customers actually preferred the more traditional, staffed checkouts.

Other statistics highlighted by the survey include:

  • more than 40 percent of respondents cite technical glitches as the most annoying aspect of self-service checkout;
  • more than half of shoppers questioned believe the transaction speed at self-service checkout is actually slower than at manned checkouts; and
  • more than 50 percent of consumers complain that they aren't sure where the line starts at self-service payment points.

But the degree to which self-service checkout impacts the customer experience is a matter of intense debate, even within grocery stores themselves. Costco, Jewel-Osco and Albertsons have decided to remove self-checkouts from their stores, citing a lack of confidence that it truly benefits their shoppers.

And then there's Walmart. The world's largest retailer is far less doubtful when it comes to self-service. The company is on course to add 10,000 self-checkouts  to 1,200 Walmart locations in the U.S.

"Our customers are shopping differently than they ever have, and we're using innovative technologies like self-checkouts to meet their needs," said Jeff McAllister, senior vice president of innovation, Walmart U.S., when the company announced the expansion. "Our multiple checkout options give us a unique advantage to provide our customers with the quick, easy and convenient checkout experience they tell us they want."

Recent research from RBR forecasts the total number of self-checkout deployments to continue to climb through 2018. RBR correlates the rise with the growing number of retailers attempting to diversify their approach to self-service.

Still, Tensator Chief Executive Alan McPherson said that with the growing trend toward retail self-service, retailers need to ask themselves if they are getting it right.

"If such a high number of shoppers need help when using self-service tills, retailers need to be looking at the technology they use and the way it's being presented to the consumer," he said. "If so many people need help, it actually negates the self-service aspect. No retailer wants to lose customers, but it seems that many are."

Cathy Barnes, professor of retail innovation at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K., said that if technology improvements fail to soothe consumer frustrations, the move to self-service checkout could eventually drive more consumers to shop online.

"This research makes very interesting reading against the backdrop of growing online retail sales," she said. "Shops need to pay increasing attention to the experience they provide in-store to ensure they do not drive consumers away."

Read more about self-checkout.

Photo via flickr.

Topics: Customer Experience, Retail, Self-Checkout, Supermarkets & Grocery

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