Do Customers Really Like Self-Service Checkouts?

Do Customers Really Like Self-Service Checkouts?

Is self-service checkout the bridge too far for the retail business?

Seen as a magic wand for productivity improvement and cost containment, self-service checkout was once touted—and feared—as a replacement for human grocery cashiers. Still, it remains a niche novelty that doesn’t appear to be on a path of retail domination in the Twin Cities. Turns out most folks don’t want to be bothered to play cashier and hunt for bar codes.

But they don’t express their distaste for self-service checkout in quite the vituperative way the Wall Street Journal recently did, where columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote: “The human has a more pleasing, less buggy interface. The human doesn’t expect me to remember or look up codes for produce, she bags my groceries, and unlike the machine, she isn’t on hair-trigger alert for any sign that I might be trying to steal toilet paper.”

Self-serve checkout’s local inroads are limited. Lunds and Byerly’s, paragons of high-touch customer service, are planning to expand their self-checkout offerings to more stores in 2014. At Rainbow and Cub, self-checkout is limited to baskets of 15 or 20 groceries respectively. Target and Home Depot offer the option as well.

A new Edina Byerly’s, under construction on France Avenue, will include self-checkout. It also will be a feature of the new Lunds being built in downtown St. Paul.

But Lunds and Byerly’s have to tread carefully in the realm. They started with self-checkout in two stores in 2001, and only offer it in seven of 23 stores today.

Half of the lanes in the Lunds on Hennepin Avenue are self-checkout. “Downtown Minneapolis has been very successful,” says Kevin Baartman, vice president of information services for Lunds and Byerly’s. “The shopper is a more frequent shopper, with smaller baskets. Self-checkout is conducive to how they shop.”

Besides puzzling over produce codes, the most prevalent self-checkout complaints are problems using coupons, the devices’ preoccupation with whether you’ve bagged items and the tendency to lock up if customers deviate from a rigid protocol of movements.