June 28, 2007
The Self-Checkout Debate
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

I read a story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday suggesting that the business world is still debating the merits of self-checkout. Given the proliferation of self-checkout machines in both grocery stores and airports I thought that debate had already been settled. However, to the extent it is still an open issue, I would like to weigh in against self-checkout, particularly to the extent that self-checkout is designed to displace most cashiers.

To be sure self-checkout appears like an ideal model for businesses to adopt because it promises efficiency and time saving, which should translate into increased sales. Yet more times than not, the self-checkout experience is not all it promises to be. Indeed, most people are lured to the self-checkout line in the hopes that they will save time, which means that any delay in line is more frustrating because they expected swiftness. Yet in my experience, delay is what occurs. That is become inevitably there is someone in line who encounters a problem. It then takes an inordinate amount of time for a store official to respond to the customer. And after that, it takes even more time for the first store official to find another official who actually knows how to resolve the customer’s problem. Meanwhile, everyone in line grows more frustrated, casting their eyes at lines with an actual cashier that appear to be moving more quickly. While this is not always the experience in the self-checkout line, it happens often enough to make me opt for the line with an actual cashier. Thus, I think businesses should do more to assess customer reaction to self-checkout before adopting a strategy designed to replace or significantly reduce the number of cashiers in favor of self-checkout.

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