A grocery chain focused on self-service is expanding throughout California, Arizona and Nevada. Apparently, the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, a subsidiary of British-owned Tesco, not only offers a self-service option, it's a requirement.
Shoppers bag their own groceries, find and scan bar codes and even manually enter numerical codes for vegetables. They also complete their transactions, choosing their preferred payment method. However, employees are dispersed throughout stores to assist shoppers who need help.
Drew Voros, business editor at the Mercury News, isn't a fan, writing in a recent blog, "When you are only buying a few things, self-serve checkouts are bearable and may even get you out of the store faster. But if you have to check out a heavily loaded grocery cart, you might feel like filling out a United Food and Commercial Workers union card when finished."
He went on to write that "where there is a choice between human help and a faceless cold machine barking prices and instructions at you, the general public still gravitates toward living and breathing checkers."
I can't say I agree. Maybe it's the industry I'm in, or maybe it's because I come from the first generation that has officially "grown up" with these types of technologies, but if I ever have a choice between machine or human, I choose the machine.
It's often faster and less of a hassle — And cheaper not only for the store, but also for shoppers, according to Fresh & Easy's website:
"Our customers have a choice when checking out. They can check out by themselves or with assistance, whichever they find most convenient. This also helps us to keep our cost down so we can keep our prices low for our customers."
Although Voros and I disagree on the ease of self-check out, we agree on one point — the number of self-service checkouts will continue to increase.
"The influx of self-serve checkouts has been fairly remarkable, considering 10 years ago they were nonexistent and today they represent 20 percent of retail checkouts," Voros wrote.
He also pointed out that NCR Corp., the leading maker of self-service checkouts, is coming off a record sales year for the devices and expects growth of 10 percent or more this year.
Unlike Voros, I'd love to shop at a Fresh & Easy. I'm sure there's a learning curve, but once you're familiar with the system, I'm betting the wait at the checkout line is much shorter.
Voros disagrees: "Stand back and observe the neophytes taking to the register for the first time and you won't see much laughing or smiling, and no conga line will break out. Instead, you will see shoppers taking on pained expressions that come with doing unfamiliar and unpaid physical labor."
Really? No one is forcing consumers to shop at Fresh & Easy. Shoppers who don't like the self-service concept could always go to a grocery store that offers human checkers.
However, the 12 new Fresh & Easy stores recently opened or about to open in Northern California may be proof that more consumers are embracing self-service at the grocery store.
What do you think about Fresh & Easy's take on self-service? Leave your comments below.
Cherryh Butler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.