Why are customers divided on self-checkout or cashiers?
As technology advances and changes rapidly, our interactions with people, places, and things change as well. One example of this is the Self-Checkout service.
I’ve always wondered why sometimes I find myself at the end of a large line at a grocery store, but next to the line will be 4 empty self-checkout terminals. For me, the solution to move to self-checkout is quite simple, and I probably save about 10 minutes of my time rather than waiting in those lines. So why doesn’t everyone do this? The fact is that age plays a very important role in the division of this matter. Over 91 percent of people aged 35 or younger have used self-checkout services, and, when given a choice, 46% of respondents aged 18 to 34 say they prefer self-checkouts over a cashier. Only 19% of respondents aged 55 and older would choose a self-checkout over a cashier. Many people find the machines annoying and troublesome, and one argument from the self-checkout haters is that they are being “forced to do a cashier’s job”. Another argument against self-checkouts is that a majority of stores that implement them do not accept cash at those terminals.
Is Self-Service better service?
The most important benefit for self-checkouts is that they are indeed much quicker. Time is very valuable to us humans; it is in high demand with a limited supply. For those who feel comfortable with technology, it definitely is the fastest option – even faster than those cashier-operated express lanes! An added bonus is that you are bagging your own groceries or items the way you like, or maybe not even using bags at all. Customers who utilize self-checkouts also have the advantage of privacy and control. Of course, aside from the consumer benefits, self-checkouts reduce labor costs for the company as well since one employee can monitor 6-10 self-checkout registers at a time, rather than one traditional checkout lane. They can also assist in a store’s traffic spikes during key hours in the day.
Do Self-Checkouts benefit companies?
Some ways that Self-Checkout terminals can benefit companies:
- Quicker Check Outs – The biggest advantage is the speed at which a customer can check out with their items at a self-checkout terminal. This reduces traffic and congestion within stores, which also keeps the customers happy.
- Less Space – Self-checkout terminals take up less space. Six terminals can take up nearly the same amount of space for a single lane traditional check out with a cashier.
- Reduced Labor Costs – A single employee can monitor and attend to several self-checkout terminals, reducing the need for more employees. Additionally, during slow business hours, cashiers at traditional check outs can’t work on other tasks. Utilizing self-checkout terminals reduces this redundancy and improves efficiency.
- Control – Consumers love to have control. Self-checkout terminals allow the consumer to have control over their items they are checking out as well as over their time. It also adds a level of privacy as well – No one judging you when you have nothing but ice cream and microwave meals in your cart. While this is a great perk for consumers, it also benefits companies by improving customer satisfaction and therefore business.
What are the negatives of self-checkouts?
Some ways that Self-Checkout terminals can be a problem for companies:
- Learning Curve – Not everyone is used to using a touch screen machine yet. There is certainly an evident age gap in the use of technology. Older generations would rather go to a cashier than make an attempt at a self-checkout terminal.
- Risk of Theft – With fewer employees monitoring self-checkout terminals, the risk of theft may be increased. Since a majority of self-check out terminals are cashless, there is an increased risk of thieves planting credit card “shimmers.” Shimmers are like credit card skimmers but are specifically for the new EMV chipped cards.
- Cost – A study put out by MIT places the cost of a typical 4-lane self-checkout terminal setup at $125,000 with an annual cost of $2,800 per year.
The Near Future, Checkout-less?
Self-Checkout may seem like a relatively new technology. It has been around for a few years. Nowadays however, a few years is enough to make something outdated. At the rate technology is advancing, self-checkouts will soon become obsolete, and once again we will need to conform to how new technologies will quite literally remove the need for check-out lines altogether: a completely checkout-less system. It is already being developed and even implemented and tested in some locations. The technology used to make this a reality is the same tech used in autonomous vehicles. Computer vision, AI, and Deep Learning algorithms make a checkout-less system a reality. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this technology is that there is very little interaction with any kind of “machine,” other than your own mobile phone. Customers will simply have to scan their phone as they walk into a store, grab their groceries, and walk out. Their items are automatically checked out on their mobile phones using their store account. This simple process could greatly reduce the learning curve and complaints, especially from older clientele. However, there will likely be a higher concern for privacy, with cameras and AI watching and analyzing your every move. Data will not only be gathered based on what you are shopping for and when, but potentially also on what you are wearing as you shop, your accessories, and even your mood at that time of day. A smart AI algorithm could quantify and generate business intelligence on every single aspect of a customer as soon as they walk into the store. It sounds scary, but any data-conscious company nowadays has to think about these aspects. User data could also be used to further optimize, automate, and make these cashier-less stores even more efficient. Imagine the store itself reminding you when you may have forgotten an item based on what you have in your cart or on what you have had in your cart historically. Data is very valuable but so is a consumer’s time and privacy.
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Tell us what you think?
Being in the data business, I see how the current hybrid systems of self-checkout terminals and cashier lanes are practical and can work together. That being said, the risk for theft at the self-checkout lanes is pretty significant. Whenever a new technology is revealed and used, there will always be those few individuals who will develop a way to exploit it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it continues to drive the evolution of technology; it drives its adaptation with newer more secure versions and hardware updates. The issue may be, however, the cost to adapt these systems for that heightened security and how much is truly lost to theft from self-checkout lanes. If the cost to update the systems outweighs the losses that are incurred from the theft, then logically, but unfortunately, it makes no sense to adapt your systems. Alternatively, the tech used in cashier-less systems would significantly reduce theft. The entire premise of current cashier-less systems is computer vision tech which means the customer must be in camera view no matter where they are in the store. Aside from physical theft, the risk of theft is essentially nonexistent since you can’t place a ‘shimmer’ device if credit cards are not even being used in the store.
Though these technologies do present some issues, a true cashier-less system of walking in and walking out with your groceries could also create some very interesting data insights that may further increase efficiency. All that data being collected will have to be stored efficiently somewhere in order to develop actionable insights. Additionally, this tech will alter a customer’s train of thought entirely. When planning trips to the grocery store, most of us account for the time it will take to find the items we need, traffic in the store depending on the time of day, and of course the checkout process. Once we eliminate the majority of these steps, our train of thought will change because we will not need nearly as much time to shop for our groceries. When our mindsets change in this sense, the way businesses market to us in the store will change as well.
Technology is truly changing various areas of industry all around us! There are currently companies that want to eliminate cashiers all together, and it is bound to happen in the very near future. For the time being however, there will be more and more of these hybrid systems integrated into stores as they become cheaper. Also overtime, more customers will start to become regular users of this technology. It is just a matter of adaptation.
As a Data Analyst, Taj helped The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gather, cleanse, and analyze data via observations made with the Chandra X-Ray Space Telescope on the Orion Nebula star region.