If you could replace all of your cashiers with modified credit card machines, would you do it? Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco have tried self-checkout, and their results are mixed. Some consumers love the idea; others think that taking the human interaction factor out of shopping is a recipe for a totally antisocial society. Then there’s the real bottom line: is self-checkout good for business? The idea is still new enough that there is no definitive answer – only an ongoing dialogue.
Proponents of self-service checkouts argue that it’s not only more efficient in the front, it frees up valuable employee time for other tasks. Retail mega-giant Wal-Mart already offers the service in about 1,800 of their stores, with plans to expand to 2,500 of their 4,000 locations. Their spokespeople have emphasized that the addition of self-checkout will not do away with jobs or hours for their employees; their rationale also focuses on what they perceive to be the benefit to customers, by giving them more choices and, hopefully, more convenience.
Their arguments are not unfounded, either. A recent Cisco Customer Service report indicates that 21st century shoppers are more open than ever to the idea of an automated retail experience, with 61 percent in favor. Fifty-two percent of shoppers surveyed also reported preferring self-service checkout.
As compelling as the argument for may be, self-service checkout is not without its detractors, nor evidence to support those concerns. Wal-Mart’s main rival, Costco, recently decided to pull self-service checkout from their stores, stating that its human cashiers were more efficient, a move which emphasizes Costco’s ongoing investment in employee contentment (along with excellent wages and benefits).
Further, a Google search with the phrase “self-checkout” will turn up an alarming number of theft reports, and safety measures taken to quell these crimes – such as additional surveillance cameras – could end up costing retailers more in the long run.
It will be very interesting to see in the coming years where self-checkout will go, how it will impact both sales and customer satisfaction and whether it will become a permanent fixture on the retail scene or an abandoned relic.