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March 2, 2024

The Decline of Self-Checkout in Supermarkets

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Jan 15, 2024

Self-checkout technology, once heralded as the future of supermarket shopping, is facing growing backlash from retailers and shoppers alike. Major grocery chains in the US and UK are starting to move away from self-checkout lanes, citing issues such as high maintenance costs, increased theft rates, and declining customer satisfaction.

Kroger and Other Retailers Abandoning Self-Checkout

Several prominent supermarket operators, including Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the US, have announced plans to remove self-checkout stations from select store locations.

A Kroger spokesperson stated that self-checkout lanes are being eliminated from “several underperforming locations where space limitations or low adoption rates made the business case difficult.”

Kroger has faced multiple complaints recently over long wait times and technical issues at self-checkout kiosks:

“I refuse to use these anymore they are flawed in one way or another there’s always an issue I’ll just stick to manned registers from now on” – Kroger shopper in Ohio [1]

Other large chains taking action include Albertsons in the US and Tesco in the UK. Industry experts predict this is only the start of a wider move away from automated checkouts.

Professor Tony Hines of Hertfordshire University commented:

“I’ve been predicting the decline of self-service checkouts since 2018. They’re just not providing the benefits retailers hoped for. Now we’re starting to see a swing back towards traditional cashiers.” [2]

Behind the Self-Checkout Backlash

There are several key reasons major supermarkets appear to be falling out of love with self-checkout technology:

High Costs

Maintaining self-checkout stations requires significant upfront and ongoing investment. The scan guns, weighing scales, and touch screens involve expensive hardware. Then there’s the regular software updates and repairs needed to keep stations operational. With 6 to 12 self-checkout kiosks in a typical store, costs stack up.

There’s also evidence that self-checkouts indirectly increase some types of theft – see statistics below – necessitating extra security staff.

Theft and Fraud

Multiple sources suggest self-checkouts have much higher levels of “shrinkage” – retail’s term for stock losses from theft or scanning errors:

Shrinkage Rate Staffed Checkouts Self-Checkouts
Industry Average 1.6% 4.9%
Albertsons Survey n/a 5.5%

A National Retail Security Survey found that around 50% of self-checkout thefts arise from intentional skipping of items, with the rest mostly accidental non-scans [3].

But it’s not only petty thieves taking advantage. Organized retail crime groups have been caught using self-checkouts to systematically steal high value goods and launder fraudulent gift cards.

Poor Customer Service

The most common complaint from shoppers is struggling to scan items properly or requiring staff assistance to clear minor technical glitches that interrupt the process. This leads to frustrations over longer wait times compared to traditional cashiers.

Surveys show only around 50% of US shoppers actively prefer using self-checkouts. Younger demographics are the most supportive, while older generations remain warier of the technology.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

The swing against self-service checkouts likely won’t result in their complete disappearance from stores any time soon. Major chains have invested huge sums developing and rolling out the technology across thousands of outlets.

But we may have passed “peak self-checkout”. Operators will reevaluate where automated lanes provide genuine efficiency gains and concentrate installations there, while removing them from less suitable stores.

Independent grocery stores have been slower adopters of self-checkouts and will likely now ditch any tentative plans.

Specialist automated checkout developers like Mashgin, who promise sophisticated computer vision systems to make scanning far smoother for shoppers, may gain fresh backing from retailers.

Professor Hines predicts a revival of personal shopper services:

“Rather than making customers do all the work scanning items themselves, I see a rise in options where trained retail staff assemble people’s shopping baskets for them with handheld apps. This provides store oversight against theft while freeing up cashiers to man tills.”

In the longer term, Amazon Go style cashier-less stores relying on advanced sensors and cameras to detect products may realize more potential than current flawed self-checkout technology.

Shopping patterns also continue evolving rapidly in the wake of the pandemic, with booming online grocery sales leading traditional supermarkets to question if maintaining large physical retail footprints makes economic sense. Covid simply accelerated existing trends towards convenience store formats.

For squeezed brick-and-mortar retailers it’s now cheaper to offer traditional checkouts with human cashiers than absorb losses from unreliable self-service stations. Though they still come with their own risks if employees scan incorrectly or fail to charge for goods.

One thing seems clear – the future of supermarket retail will rely much less on the cost cutting self-service model that promised to revolutionize the industry. The technology has so far failed to deliver on its potential at scale. Expect a period of innovation around more hybrid and specialized models before the next wave of automation arrives to truly transform grocery shopping.

References

  1. https://www.the-sun.com/money/10073236/kroger-customer-store-issues-complains-self-checkout/
  2. https://www.irishstar.com/news/us-news/major-supermarkets-could-scrap-doomed-31845205.amp
  3. https://www.gaffneyledger.com/articles/love-it-or-hate-it-self-checkout-is-here-to-stay/
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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