In and Out: The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

Retailers, breathe a sigh of relief. Black Friday is over and Cyber Monday orders have all been placed. The initial rush is over. But the holiday shopping season is just beginning. There’s another three weeks’ worth of time for shopping (or procrastination of shopping) before the season ends.  During those three weeks, more shoppers than ever will make their purchases on non-traditional POS systems. These systems will range from self-checkout kiosks to “scan as you go” services to mobile-based systems carried throughout the store by employees for a “check out anywhere” experience. There are pros and cons to each of these systems (and to traditional POS systems as well), but let’s start with a look at self-checkout services.

Self-checkout services are becoming increasingly common. Hardware retailer (and popular store for Dad gifts) Home Depot was one of the first stores to implement self-Self_checkout_using_NCR_Fastlane_machinesservice checkout kiosks, but other retailers have followed, including grocery store giants Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Others have implemented self-checkout and then scraped it, including Costco, Albertsons and Ikea. It’s definitely not right for every retailer, but can have big benefits.

Cutting Costs

One of the major arguments for self-checkout is that it reduces overhead costs. Instead of having four cashiers manning four checkout lanes, one cashier can monitor four checkout lanes. Alternatively, the cashier can be cut out entirely. Either way, costs are reduced.

However, there’s a pretty big “but” with this. Self-checkout can cut down costs, but can also increase theft. Earlier this year, a Florida woman was caught trying to leave the store with $350 worth of products, for which she had paid $40. There’s no denying that self-checkout can create opportunities for thieves, but with careful monitoring by employees, the threat can be reduced. The benefit in costs savings may not be enough for some retailers, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of cutting down overhead vs. preventing theft.

People Like It. Some of Them, Anyway

A recent Cisco survey found that 52 percent of people prefer self-checkout. That also means that 48 percent of people don’t like self-checkout. While some shoppers prefer the DIY aspect of self-checkout, combined with the appeal of avoiding talking to other people, other shoppers enjoy the interpersonal interaction that comes with a traditional POS system or find the kiosks frustrating or difficult to use. Before implementing a self-checkout system, it’s important to determine where your customer base falls. If you determine that your customers are primarily in the “pro” camp, it’s equally important to ensure that the system you choose is easy to use, practical for your business model and won’t frustrate your customers. Even the staunchest of pro-self-checkout consumers will avoid a bad system.

It’s a “Gateway” Change

Still other retailers see self-checkout as the gateway to further change – a precursor of sorts to the days when you’ll be able to scan objects with your phone as you shop and then pay using a mobile wallet. The change to self-checkout could get consumers acclimated to the self-service idea quickly and easily.

Of course, it’s also an expensive proposition to install self-service kiosks at check out. And it’s even more expensive to move away from the system in favor of another one after just a few years. Before implementing this sort of system, consider carefully what you think is the future of checkout for retailers. Cutting edge is good, but cutting unnecessary changes is better.

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