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About a decade ago, retailers demanded greater profits – leading to the roll-out of the self-checkout lanes. The introduction of self-checkout lanes was viewed as a strategic move to reduce retailers’ labor costs while helping to speed up the consumers’ shopping experience. However, Alberstons, Kroger, and Home Depot have recently been reported as starting to remove their self-checkout options at retail.

What went wrong? The retailers shifted too much of their focus from the marketplace (consumers) to their margins.  The self-checkout lanes didn’t deliver on consumer demand for:

  1. Greater convenience.   We’ve all experienced the frustration of scanning an item and encountering some kind of error, leading us to patiently wait for an employee to resolve the situation. As a result, the self-checkout process typically ends up taking more time than the normal checkout process.
  2. Better value.  We’ve seen the explosion of self-checkout lanes everywhere but we have not experienced any of the upside in terms of lower/better prices and/or more desirable inventory/items.

Albertsons finally “gets it” as they stated that self-checkout no longer fits with the customer-service experience it wants, according to spokeswoman Christine Wilcox. "Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave," Wilcox said recently in the Seattle Times.

Retailers are starting to replace the self-checkout lanes with more staffed checkout lanes at peak hours as well as alternative queuing methods, such as those found at Whole Foods.  And, hopefully, retailers are returning to addressing consumers’ need to feel that their time, trouble, and dollars spent shopping have been “spent” wisely.

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Annamaria Turano
AnnaMaria Turano is a partner of MCAworks, a strategic marketing consulting firm based in Westport, CT. She develops insight-driven customer value propositions and strategic marketing plans for companies such as MasterCard, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Subway and Verizon. She is an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at NYU’s Sterns School of Business, and is co-author of "StopWatch Marketing."
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