30/04/2010

Self-Serve Checkouts: Yes or No?

Sainsbury's will follow a growing trend for self-serve checkouts by replacing hundreds more of its manned checkouts with the new-style terminals.

The idea is that shoppers who are buying only a few items can self- scan rather than queue for a normal till.

A decade into the new millennium and it would seem our perception on technological advancement was a little ambitious.

To date we do not have cars that can fly, robots to do our housework nor have holidays to the moon been organised.

However one area of technology has been progressing with the furistic speed you would expect for the 21st century.

Self- serve checkouts in supermarkets are popping up all over the industry replacing 'weather chat' with the cashier with an automated warning that there are "unexpected items in the bagging area".

In the UK, Tesco has self-service counters in 256 stores, where they are responsible for a quarter of all transactions.

Last October, Tesco went a step further and introduced an Express store in Northampton where customers were served by only one member of staff and a host of self-service tills.

Sainsbury's is following suit, with a growing 220 stores offering self-service, and more set to follow. Wal-Mart has had self-service checkout lanes since 2004.

Many believe that the number of self-service tills is going to double over the next year. So this is clearly a growing trend, but what is the appeal?

Retailers say a self-service checkout will deliver the same service to every customer and reduce staffing requirements, with one member of staff able to oversee as many as four to six checkout lanes simultaneously.

For the customer self-service tills also provide a range of benefits. Self-service checkouts can allow greater numbers of customers to pay and leave with greater speed.

Up to six checkout units can be fitted into the space of one cashier’s station. Also, many customers prefer to scan and pack their own shopping without having to deal with a cashier.
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But the Daily Mail has met the news with the headline "Oh no! shoppers face yet more self-scan tills"

They said:" you might think it would be simple. Scan your item, watch it appear on the screen, place it in your bag and pay.

"But if you’ve ever tried to use a supermarket self checkout, you’ll know how often the experience ends in a frustrating wait while an assistant comes to help."

It would seem that the self-scan till may have its downsides. For one thing, many customers like dealing with a human being when they come into a shop.

What’s more, not everyone is tech savvy enough to know intuitively how to operate the tills. Even with the demonstration animations on the touch screen, and the audio instructions, many people still have trouble working self-service systems. This can cause delays, slowing queues down in the very way these tills were designed to avoid.

On top of this, in the age of the environmentally-conscious Bag For Life, the finely tuned scales used to verify customers’ purchases mean that often customers are forced to use the disposable plastic bags lest they incur the wrath of the "Unexpected Item in Bagging Area" alert.

Asda admits on its website that the self-scan tills can cause problems. It states: "A lot of customers are put off giving them a try as they’re not sure how they work. Others get frustrated by things going wrong."

Sainsbury’s said last night: "The new technology will not only offer customers a more efficient, quicker system but will also improve the look and feel of checkout areas.

"Self-checkouts are to be rolled out to all stores to increase customer choice of checkout."

Existing till operators would "support self- checkouts" or move to other duties in the store, the supermarket said.

The day of the completely automated supermarket is not upon us yet, not by a very long way. But however advanced the interfaces becomes, they will always lack that human touch. We most definitely have not heard the last of the self-service checkout.

(LB)

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