‘Obviously impersonal’: International grocery stores ‘rethinking’ self-service check-outs

A growing number of global supermarket chains are reconsidering their use of a much-maligned feature in a bid to improve customer experience.

A growing number of global supermarket chains are reconsidering their use of self-service check-outs in a bid to improve customer experience.

British retailer Booths this week announced it will remove self-checkout facilities from all but two of its 28 grocery stores. Across the pond in the US, CNN reports that Walmart, Costco and Wegmans are among those revising their self-checkout strategies.

“Our customers have told us this over time – that the self-scan machines that we’ve got in our stores … can be slow, they can be unreliable [and] they’re obviously impersonal,” Booths managing director Nigel Murray told the BBC.

The technology could also be “problematic” for customers, Mr Murray said, when it came to identifying and weighing specific fruit or vegetable varietals, or purchasing alcohol.

“Some customers don’t know one different apple versus another, for example,” he explained.

“There’s all sorts of fussing about with that and then the minute you put any alcohol in your basket somebody’s got to come and check that you’re of the right age.”
International retailers have found that self-checkout can also lead to higher merchandise losses from customer errors and intentional shoplifting – known as “shrink”.

Walmart removed self-checkout machines at some locations in New Mexico earlier this year, citing a need to offer more hands-on assistance from staff to customers.

Costco said it’s adding more staff in the areas after it found that non-members where sneaking in to use membership cards that didn’t belong to them at self-checkout.

Management said this year it believed that shoplifting had increased “in part we believe due to the rollout of self-checkout”.
In Australia, there is no suggestion that supermarket giants are set to revise their approach.

But, Woolworths – to some controversy – announced last year it had installed surveillance cameras above its self-service check-outs to help “reduce misscans and improve speed for customers through the checkout”.

“While most customers do the right thing at our self-serve check-outs, we’re all busy and mistakes can easily happen,” a Woolworths spokesperson said at the time.

“We’d like to thank our customers for their support while we’ve implemented this initiative.”

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