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Disillusionment with Self-Checkout from Customer and Retailer Perspectives


Nathanial Meyersohn of CNN posted a review of self-checkout on November 13th.  He noted the “backlash against self-checkout is growing”.  Self-checkout is relatively slow, can be frustrating and is inappropriate for fruits and vegetables and items that need to be weighed.  Self-checkout is workable providing items are individually barcoded.  Problems occur with identifying vegetables and fruit.  During a recent experience at Target, only one of approximately 20 checkout lanes was manned with a considerable backup of customers.  Forced to use self-checkout, it was evident that negotiating successive screens to identify types of apples, onions and a pineapple was tedious and confusing.  In frustration, I walked away from the self-checkout station leaving the basket for staff to re-shelve.


Self-checkout was introduced in the early 2000s in an attempt to reduce the cost of manning conventional stations.  Although scanning technology and software has improved, there is considerable consumer resistance to self-checkout.  The frustration is exemplified by proposed legislation considered in Rhode Island in February 2023 imposing an additional discount for self-checkout based on the principle that installation of the system forces customers to do the work of store employees.


More recently, retailers have recorded increased “shrinkage” associated with self-checkout as some customers are obviously gaming the system. They are failing to scan some items and even use false barcodes.


Walmart, Costco, Wegman’s and the dollar stores are removing self-checkout stations since it is evident that the savings accruing from fewer checkout clerks is more than offset by losses from theft and deliberate evasion of payment through deceptive scanning.


 “Just walk out” technology introduced by Amazon stores is a novel approach, offering optimal convenience.  While suitable for small stores, installation in large hyper-markets appears to be infeasible from a logistic and capital investment perspective.