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Self-serve grocery checkout on the way out?

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Supermarkets start bagging self-serve checkouts

More supermarkets bagging do-it-yourself checkout lanes in name of customer service

ap

 

In this Sept. 23, 2011 photo, a customer uses a self-serve checkout station at a Big Y supermarket in Manchester, Conn. A growing number of supermarket chains are bagging their self-serve checkout lanes, saying they can offer better customer service when clerks help shoppers directly. Big Y Foods, which has more than 60 southern New England locations, recently became the latest to announce it's phasing them out. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Stephanie Reitz, Associated Press, On Monday September 26, 2011, 8:35 am EDT

 

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) -- When Keith Wearne goes grocery shopping, checking out with a cashier is worth the few extra moments, rather than risking that a self-serve machine might go awry and delay him even more.

 

Most shoppers side with Wearne, studies show. And with that in mind, some grocery store chains nationwide are bagging the do-it-yourself option, once considered the wave of the future, in the name of customer service.

 

"It's just more interactive," Wearne said during a recent shopping trip at Manchester's Big Y Foods. "You get someone who says hello; you get a person to talk to if there's a problem."

 

Big Y Foods, which has 61 locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, recently became one of the latest to announce it was phasing out the self-serve lanes. Some other regional chains and major players, including some Albertsons locations, have also reduced their unstaffed lanes and added more clerks to traditional lanes.

 

Market studies cited by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute found only 16 percent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option. That's down from a high of 22 percent three years ago.

 

Overall, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional cashier-staffed lanes.

 

Supermarket chains started introducing self-serve lanes about 10 years ago, touting them as an easy way for shoppers to scan their own items' bar codes, pay, bag their bounty and head out on their way. Retailers also anticipated a labor savings, potentially reducing the number of cashier shifts as they encouraged shoppers to do it themselves.

 

The reality, though, was mixed. Some shoppers loved them and were quick converts, while other reactions ranged from disinterest to outright hatred -- much of it shared on blogs or in Facebook groups.

 

An internal study by Big Y found delays in its self-service lines caused by customer confusion over coupons, payments and other problems; intentional and accidental theft, including misidentifying produce and baked goods as less-expensive varieties; and other problems that helped guide its decision to bag the self-serve lanes.

 

Wearne, 39, a Tolland resident who owns a power-washing service, reluctantly used a self-serve lane at the Manchester Big Y to ring up granola bars and a 12-pack of Miller Genuine Draft but had to wait while a clerk checked his identification.

 

If he hadn't seen the clerk standing there immediately ready to help, he said, he would have used the traditional lanes, as he usually does.

 

But for time-crunched Greg Styles, a self-described "get-it-and-go type of guy," the top priority is paying and leaving without lingering in a checkout lane.

 

Styles, a 47-year-old South Windsor resident, says the convenience of the self-serve lanes fits into his busy life as a college lacrosse coach and father of 7-year-old twins.

 

"I'm not happy about it, not at all," Styles said of the change, ringing up baked goods and chicken breasts on a recent afternoon at Big Y's Manchester store. "I like to get in and get out. These lanes are quick and really easy, so I use them all the time."

 

He's not the typical shopper, though, according to research.

 

While some chains are reducing their self-serve options, others say they're keeping it in place along with the traditional lanes because they think giving shoppers that choice is an important part of customer service.

 

"Our philosophy is giving customers options. People shop in different ways and we want to accommodate their preferences," said Suzi Robinson, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., which has self-serve lanes in about 85 percent of its nearly 400 stores in the Northeast.

 

Another chain, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons LLC, has said it's phasing out self-service lanes. Kroger says it's keeping the self-service option because customers like it, although one remodeled store replaced it with another quick-checkout method that uses a cashier.

 

Phil Lempert, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based food industry analyst, noted that supermarkets have a few other motivations to get rid of the self-serve lanes beyond customer service.

 

They will eventually need to replace their checkout computers to read newly emerging types of bar codes, so there's little business sense in keeping and replacing those self-serve machines if they're not well-used anyway, he said.

 

Perhaps more important, he said, the growing trend toward using bar code-reading programs on smartphones is likely to change everything in supermarket shopping over time.

 

Some scholars who follow the retail food industry say decisions by Big Y and others to do away with the self-serve checkout lanes aren't necessarily the death knell of the trend. Home Depot and some other businesses, which cater to customers with a do-it-yourself mentality, report success with their self-serve lanes.

 

But not all supermarket shoppers share that mentality, and whether they embrace or reject the self-serve option may come down to demographics -- such as whether they're in a tech-savvy region -- and other factors that the supermarkets cannot control.

 

"I think some of the stores are just deciding that, on the balance, it's a negative. Other stores, because they have a different composition of shoppers, are deciding to keep it," John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said of the self-serve option.

 

"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," he said.

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I don't typically use the self checkout unless I have fewer than, say, 5 items.

 

I was at a Home Depot a few weeks back. Crotchety old guy at the self check out. Trying to scan something, fuming, talking to himself on the verge of cussing. The lady that stands by the self check out to help out asks, 'Sir, may I help you."

 

Man - I hate these damn things they never work.

Lady - Well, bring your stuff over here I can ring it up for you.

Man - That's not the point. I don't even know why you have these self check out things They're awful, I don't know...

Lady - I understand, just bring yur items over here and I'll ring you up.

Man - No, you guys need to have more people here instead of expecting us to use these silly...

Lady - Yes, sir. But these save us quite a bit of money and we can pass the savings on to you.

Man - Bull sh!t. Your customer service here is awful. There is no one here to help and no cashiers.

Lady - Well, sir, that is why I am here, I can ring you up on this lane over here.

Man - (puts his stuff down) I'm leaving and going to Lowe's, there will be someone there to help me.

Lady - :wacko: , Sir, I'll be more than happy to ring up your purchase...

Man - (Just walked out of the store. And about ran me down in the parking lot.)

 

Those self checkouts can drive you crazy...

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If I have my kids with me, I will go through an aisle with a human worker. If I am by myself, I find it easier to do everything myself. Plus, not having to talk to someone is a good thing. If I want to talk to someone, I will come here and post.

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I don't typically use the self checkout unless I have fewer than, say, 5 items.

 

I was at a Home Depot a few weeks back. Crotchety old guy at the self check out. Trying to scan something, fuming, talking to himself on the verge of cussing. The lady that stands by the self check out to help out asks, 'Sir, may I help you."

 

Man - I hate these damn things they never work.

Lady - Well, bring your stuff over here I can ring it up for you.

Man - That's not the point. I don't even know why you have these self check out things They're awful, I don't know...

Lady - I understand, just bring yur items over here and I'll ring you up.

Man - No, you guys need to have more people here instead of expecting us to use these silly...

Lady - Yes, sir. But these save us quite a bit of money and we can pass the savings on to you.

Man - Bull sh!t. Your customer service here is awful. There is no one here to help and no cashiers.

Lady - Well, sir, that is why I am here, I can ring you up on this lane over here.

Man - (puts his stuff down) I'm leaving and going to Lowe's, there will be someone there to help me.

Lady - :wacko: , Sir, I'll be more than happy to ring up your purchase...

Man - (Just walked out of the store. And about ran me down in the parking lot.)

 

Those self checkouts can drive you crazy...

I was just about to mention that every time I go to Lowe's I have trouble with these & I think that it's silly to have them and still have to pay someone to babysit them when they inevitably screw up.

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Honestly, I think they get second hand scanners for the self-serve line. At the normal check out, they just zip things by and they scan. In the self serve, you sit there, SKU perfectly lined up, slowly moving back and forth, no freaking luck.

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I don't typically use the self checkout unless I have fewer than, say, 5 items.

 

I was at a Home Depot a few weeks back. Crotchety old guy at the self check out. Trying to scan something, fuming, talking to himself on the verge of cussing. The lady that stands by the self check out to help out asks, 'Sir, may I help you."

 

Man - I hate these damn things they never work.

Lady - Well, bring your stuff over here I can ring it up for you.

Man - That's not the point. I don't even know why you have these self check out things They're awful, I don't know...

Lady - I understand, just bring yur items over here and I'll ring you up.

Man - No, you guys need to have more people here instead of expecting us to use these silly...

Lady - Yes, sir. But these save us quite a bit of money and we can pass the savings on to you.

Man - Bull sh!t. Your customer service here is awful. There is no one here to help and no cashiers.

Lady - Well, sir, that is why I am here, I can ring you up on this lane over here.

Man - (puts his stuff down) I'm leaving and going to Lowe's, there will be someone there to help me.

Lady - :wacko: , Sir, I'll be more than happy to ring up your purchase...

Man - (Just walked out of the store. And about ran me down in the parking lot.)

 

Those self checkouts can drive you crazy...

 

typikal. how bout we get rid of the old people instead?

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Back in the day I worked at Grand Union (Big Star in the South -- red dot specials, anybody?) and I was the fastest cashier by far and always worked the express lane. That valuable skill has stayed with me to this day, so of course I seek out the self-serve lane wherever possible. That feeling of self-reliance as I complete the transaction without any assistance from anyone is really incomparable. I wish every store had them.

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typikal. how bout we get rid of the old people instead?

 

That'll work also.

 

I have mixed feelings about them. The other day at the grocery store I had a few items and went through the line. The person in front of me had some voucher that the cashier was unaware of... so she had to rescan a bunch of items, entering a number of some sort after each one, well she did it wrong. She had to rescan the items and couldn't figure out what to do. Well, I'm about to jump lines, but when I do that I always come out on the losing end, so I stayed. She did it wrong and had to rescan. I suggested she might ask a manager for help, she ignored me. So I ask, "Do you anticipate that this will take much longer?" To which the cashier smugly replies, "I'm doing the best I can..." To which I retort, "I don't think I would admit to that."

 

My wife about punched me for saying that to the cashier.

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:wacko: Never had an issue with them at the grocery store or at Home Depot. Heck, my 7-year old has figured them out and even the 4-year old can do it pretty easily most of the time. I try to use it most of the time at Home Depot as it is easier than waiting for the contractor's with a bunch of lumber, etc. to get done in a line, and I'll do it at the grocery store if I don;t have a bunch of produce, etc. that I'd have to look up.

 

Then again I'm not a crotchety old man that fears technology.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

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Agree that these suk. They're ok if you have a few simple items, but if you have a lot of groceries, inevitably something goes wrong and you have to call over someone to help you which usually take forever. And if you're trying to check out things without bar codes, like fruit & vegetables - which i usually buy when i go grocery shopping - it's always a pain in the a%^.

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If I have my kids with me, I will go through an aisle with a human worker. If I am by myself, I find it easier to do everything myself. Plus, not having to talk to someone is a good thing. If I want to talk to someone, I will come here and post.

+1 and :wacko:

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

Fan of the comedian Bill Burr?

 

If not, check him out :wacko:

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I've found them to be slower than the cashier lines and not because of human error. In my local stores, the system has to weigh every item and won't scan/recognize the next item until that process completes. Inevitably, I wait a few seconds between each scan before the blasted machine lets me continue.

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I use them but get frustrated at times. There's one store by me that requires each scan to be reviewed by the person up front - seems a little counterproductive. Or, when you scan an item that requires an age check and the person up front is nowhere to be found.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

This is about the last thing about them that bugs me. If they worked well and I didn't need to constantly call the person over because the scale didn't recognize the tooth brush I put in my bag or the scanner won't pick up the UPC on the item, I'd use them all the time.

 

If it gets me out of the store faster, which it technically would if it worked because they can afford to have more lines open, I absolutely don't care if I have to bag my own stuff. I'm at the store, so it's not like I have any expectations about being pampered.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

 

This.

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It's always the bag thing that gets me. Every time it's either "unexpected item in the bagging area" or "you have scanned an item that is not in the bagging area" or some SHAM WOW! like that. And of course it will not let you do SHAM WOW! until the baby-sitter comes and clears it.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

 

Actually, you are seeing some discount for using it...but its passed in the form of lower overall store prices to every shopper...not just those using the self-serve checkout.

 

Better idea might be to offer those using self-serve a 2% discount on their purchase.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

 

This.

 

I worked as a baker for almost 5 years at Safeway. This is where one of my pro-union areas of support comes in. The checkers for most grocery stores in the DC/Metro area (at least) are a collection of young college students or single/working mothers. Checkers, under the older contracts from the mid-90s made a respectable salary and their responsibilities were somewhat broad. By putting in these self checkout lanes:

 

1. We're doing the work of the company and taking aware weekend hours from checkers that most likely rely on the Sunday pay to make ends meet

2. It is diminishing customer service

 

Alas, the unions up there do not press hard enough on this issue for some reason. I guess that just validates the worthlessness of those unions in protecting their employees.

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Good riddance. If I have to scan items and bag them, then put me on your payroll or show me some discount for using it. Otherwise I am just doing their job for them.

 

Yup ... this is my thought as well.

 

Of course what we will get is no self service and no increase in cashiers.

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Actually, you are seeing some discount for using it...but its passed in the form of lower overall store prices to every shopper...not just those using the self-serve checkout.

 

Better idea might be to offer those using self-serve a 2% discount on their purchase.

Do you know this? I've always thought the benefit was that there were more "cashiers" open.

 

What about that IBM commercial that was running for a while where that shady guy was walking around the store, putting things in his overcoat pockets, he walks out the door and the clerk stops him, telling him he forgot his receipt. That was supposed to be the future of shopping. Scanners so good that they could just tell scan everything as you walked past them.

 

That was at least 5 years ago. Whatever happened to that?

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i use them when i have 10 items or less and there is a line at the register. typically they are pretty quick, but i don't like to roll the dice on issues with upc codes, cash back, coupons, etc.

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