From produce aisle to checkout lane: All things grocery in Washington

Self-checkout no more?

September 26, 2011 - 10:50 AM
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Bad news for shoppers who want to purchase their tampons/condoms/embarrassingly large tub of Cheese Balls discreetly—the customer self-checkout lane could be on the way to extinction.

The Food Marketing Institute found only 16 percent of grocery transactions were done at self-checkout lanes in 2010, down from a high of 22 percent three years ago. Customers reported higher satisfaction with the shopping experience when they went through traditional checkout lanes. Several regional chains have taken note and begun phasing out the self-serve lanes, including Northeastern grocer Big Y Foods and Albertsons.

The AP reports that Big Y announced the phase-out after an internal study uncovered problems with the machines: delays due to coupon confusion and payment; intentional and accidental theft; and misidentifying produce and baked goods. Several local-grocery observers have noted our region’s problems with the self-checkout, including “unbelievably sensitive” yet “habitually unresponsive” machines that have brought even employees to tears or “the verge of homicide.”

The self-checkout came on the grocery scene 10 years ago, heralded as a high-tech way to serve customers better and reduce staffing costs. Industry experts say the self-checkout isn’t dead, but they probably no longer define the future of supermarkets. “I don’t think this is as much a referendum on the technology as much as it is a match between the technology and the customer base,” says John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University.

The Market Report is awaiting word from several local chains to hear their plans for self-service checkouts and will update with their responses. In the meantime, enjoy buying laxatives in the privacy of the self-checkout lane while you can.

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