If you ask me, grocery store chains and some big box retailers are messing up big time.
Yep, messing up by relying on self-service checkouts.
We’ve all used them. For quick purchases they are great. You zip in, pick up some milk and a bag of cat food, swipe your debit card, and you zip out. You know the layout of the buttons on the machine by heart and every step is memorized so you don’t even have to wait for the prompts. Your fingers move about the screen with the familiarity of your TV’s remote control.
It’s great for the grocer/retailer. They reduce labor costs by having fewer checkers and baggers, while shortening the line in the express checkout lane. They can keep prices down and/or profit up. It’s great for the customer who has just a few items or wants to avoid dealing with a clerk.
So why do I think the stores are messing up?
The most obvious and most discussed issue has been theft. Theft is a big deal, but I think these retailers are missing out on something even bigger.
There are definite changes in my shopping behavior at a store around the corner from our house where I can use self-checkout as an option. For one, I now have a tendency to purchase fewer items than I normally would. If it requires a basket, that’s about the only time I would consider waiting in an attended lane. “Oh, wait, we need paper towels. I think I’ll just get the double-roll instead of the mega 32 pack since I don’t have a cart.” Or, “I could use some vitamins, but those are on the other side of the store and I don’t want to dump the gallon of milk and twelve-pack of diet Dr. Pepper I’m already juggling.”
The second difference, and what seems most important, is that my purchase simply becomes a transaction without human contact. And guess what, if the purchase process becomes nothing more than a transaction, there is less value placed on the purchase. If there is less value placed, the more likely price is going to be a consideration.
With my spouse putting in more working hours lately, I find myself doing more of the heavy shopping. I also find myself going to the store that does not have self-checkout as an option. Turns out, when I follow my list and invest more time, I actually appreciate piling the groceries on the conveyer belt and letting someone else scan, weigh and look up the proper codes. Instead of a short transaction, I interact with a smiling face (for the most part) and I’m asked if I need help out to the car. I have also noticed that these stores seem to have more attended lanes open. This means a faster checkout for all, saving everyone time, no matter how many items they have. The store is providing more value than simply tallying up a transaction.
Is anyone else feeling this? Are grocers and retailers, including giants like Home Depot, Safeway Stores and Walmart, being short-sighted by using self-checkout technology? Are they possibly alienating customers and creating less value instead of more? I wonder if the average dollar amount spent per shopper is decreasing, or if the customer base is shrinking?
I stopped in the local grocery store before heading to the office the other morning, to pick up a few small items. The attended checkout lanes did not open until 7:30 a.m., so the only option was to use one of the 5 self-checkout lanes monitored by a single employee. An older woman ahead of me, with a semi-full basket, approached the machine looking overwhelmed. The attendant had to make several trips to her lane to help weigh bulk produce, lift a large container of detergent and finally locate a UPC code on a frozen dinner. With each trip, the customer became more flustered and the attendant, less patient, as she was helping other customers as well. Finally the woman threw her hands in the air and proclaimed, “I give up. I just need some help.” She walked away leaving her items behind. As she left, I heard her say “I guess I just can’t shop here anymore.”
Any savings and extra profit for the retailer just went out the door, along with a customer.