By GalTime's Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager
Are Self Services CheckOut Lanes Checking Out?I'm going to confess my bias in the beginning of this column: I detest self service store checkout's. Inevitably something always goes wrong: The zebra code on a product won't scan correctly or the scale thingy doesn't 'weigh' accurately post scan, when I place it in the bag. Then the computer essentially accuses me of shoplifting something, makes this BONG noise, locks up and I have to push a button to "notify clerk for help". Does the clerk help? No, because he's busy helping some other upset customer who's self service lane won't work. I stand there, and there, getting more and more mad until the clerk comes over, punches in some code and tells me my lip gloss was so light it didn't register. So when I heard recently some big chain stores were doing away with their self service lanes I cheered.
Are self service lanes becoming the way of the past? Kroger's and Albertson's supermarkets pulled self checkout lanes from over 100 of their stores blaming service problems. Big Y Foods announced it's "selecting 'service' over self checkouts" in all of its stores. The grocery chain says, "In the battle of Service vs. Self Checkouts, service won. By the end of the year, Big Y plans to eliminate all of the self checkout lanes within their 58 supermarkets. The company first implemented self checkout lanes in 2003."
Kroger, Albertsons and Big Y will add more standard and express lanes to take the self checkout spots. Customers will notice a marked improvement in customer service as additional staff is added to staff increased checkout lanes.
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Why the change? (Applause here)
Albertson's spokesperson Christine Wilcox says the chain got complaints that customers felt like they missed out on customer service checking out their own groceries. "It was with one goal in mind: provide better customer service. It's that simple. If you have a chance to talk with someone before you leave a store, odds are you'll let us know how it went - whether we met your expectations, if there were items you were looking for but couldn't find, etc., rather than not saying anything."
Big Y says it did a bunch of research and found the self checkout lanes usually take customers even more time to check out than customers in standard checkout lanes. Big Y concluded that their self checkout technology simply could neither improve nor replace the value of a friendly cashier who is able to personally help each customer in their lane. In Big Y's news release, the company echoes my self service pain saying, "Self checkout lines get clogged as the customers needed to wait for store staff to assist with problems with bar codes, coupons, payment problems and other issues that invariably arise with many transactions."
Big Y's Michael A. Tami, vice president for information resources and technologies says, "Our self checkout technology could not deliver on the service needs of our customers. In short, we were not able to provide the exceptional customer service through them that has made Big Y what it is today. While other chains are opting to replace cashiers with more self checkouts, we are adding cashiers to service more standard lanes."
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GalTime readers weighed in on the topic. Gloria Bauer says, "It's an excuse not to hire enough personnel." Mae McKinley is self service neutral. "I like them when I only have a few things, but when you have more than 10 items and also bakery of vegetables, it's time consuming." And some readers love them! Christine Zadykovich says, "Love them. Love the self scanners (hand held scanners you carry with you and scan your items) even more, then I can bag how I want as I go along (no squished bread!). Also the scanners are great to catch price mistakes!"
Interestingly research firm Empathica recently surveyed 16,000 consumers about what technologies they value most in their "grocery experience", and how their expectations are being met by grocery stores in the US and Canada. SURVEY SAYS: Self-checkouts ranked as the No. 1 technology that enhances consumers' overall shopping experience. Here's the survey results:
Top Grocery Store Technologies that Consumers Value, From Most Important to Least Important:
2. Easy-to-use website
3. Kiosks offering product information, coupons, recipes, etc.
4. Electronic offers sent via email or mobile device
5. Wireless access within store
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And Americans liked self-checkout's more ! 65% of U.S. consumers considered self-checkouts important, compared to only 54% of Canadian consumers. "Brands have the opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors by implementing the technologies consumers look for when choosing a grocery store," says Brian Jones, Empathica V.P. of Grocery and Consumer Packaged Goods. "As technology continues to evolve, stores need to consider new grocery store enhancements, and how they'll improve the overall grocery experience for shoppers.
So what can you expect in the grocery store check out aisle of the future? I asked SupermarketGuru Phil Lempert. He says scrap the checkout aisle, shoppers will be going 'hand held'. "We love our mobile devices and trust them, so expect to check out as you go." Yup, Phil predicts that within 2 years checking out at the grocery store will actually be done with mobile apps where people check out on their phone!
What do you think about self service checkout's? Love them? Hate them? Let us know in the comments below !
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