Nobody likes self-checkout. Here’s why it’s everywhere
“Unexpected item in the bagging area.” “Please place item in the bag.” “Please wait for assistance.”
If you’ve encountered these irritating alerts at the self-checkout machine, you’re not alone.
According to a survey last year of 1,000 shoppers, 67% said they’d experienced a failure at the self-checkout lane. Errors at the kiosks are so common that they have even spawned dozens of memes and TikTok videos.
“We’re in 2022. One would expect the self-checkout experience to be flawless. We’re not there at all,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who has researched self-checkout.
Customers aren’t the only ones frustrated with the self-checkout experience. Stores have challenges with it, too.
Self-checkout is here to stay
Despite self-checkout’s many shortcomings for customers and store owners, the trend is only growing.
Walmart (WMT), Kroger (KR) and Dollar General (DG) are piloting exclusively self-checkout stores. Costco and Albertsons have brought self-checkout back after removing it years ago. Amazon(AMZN) has taken the concept a step further with cashier-less Amazon Go stores.
It may simply be too late for stores to turn their back on self-checkout. Stores today are catering to shoppers who perceive self-checkout to be faster than traditional cashiers, even though there’s little evidence to support that. But, because customers are doing the work, rather than waiting in line, the experience can feel like it’s moving more quickly.
Store owners have also seen competitors installing self-checkout and determined they don’t want to miss out.
“It’s an arms race. If everyone else is doing it, you look like an idiot if you don’t have it,” said David D’Arezzo, a former executive at Dollar General, Wegmans and other retailers. “Once you let it out of the bag, it’s pretty difficult not to offer it anymore.”
Covid-19 has also hastened the spread of self-checkout. During the pandemic, many customers opted for self-service to avoid close interactions with cashiers and baggers. And challenges hiring and retaining workers have led stores to rely on the machines more heavily to get customers through the door.