Credited to jaygooby at Flickr Creative Commons
Everywhere you look, it seems as though self-serve checkouts are infiltrating your everyday life. There’s movie rental kiosks outside drug stores and gas stations. Inside stores, self-checkout stations are becoming more popular, too; but is this one machine that will completely replace human cashiers? While it’s too early to tell, at this point that concept seems unlikely.
A New Era of Convenience
There are some conveniences to the self-checkout. Stores can install one, and companies don’t have to pay wages for an employee to come in for a shift. It’s easier to turn on most automated checkouts than completely open up another lane, and they’re ideal for customers with small orders who don’t mind bagging their own purchases. Consumers like choice, which is one reason that retail giant Walmart has installed these machines in so many of its stores.
Department stores may soon follow supermarkets in the self-checkout trend. JC Penney, for example, announced a plan to do away with all its cashiers by 2014; however, not everyone agrees this is a good idea. While the goal of the chain is to be able to checkout anywhere, at any time, opponents worry there would be a severe drop in available jobs for current employees. Retailer Urban Outfitters also tried this approach last year at over 400 locations, allowing cashiers to assist customers with mobile devices.
Not the Perfect Solution
However, the self-checkout isn’t without its faults. It requires someone to watch over it who knows how to operate the software and hardware. If this person becomes busy, any issues that arise can lead to a longer checkout time. Because checking out is the last experience a customer will have in the store, it’s important for companies to make this a positive experience. Still, one employee can keep watch over multiple stations, which means better time management. As long as the checkout process goes smoothly and there are no technical issues, installing self-checkout stations can improve efficiency and the bottom line of a retailer.
Some shoppers prefer the convenience of having someone else scan and bag items, however. The elderly, people with children and the disabled are among the list of people who might prefer a traditional checkout experience. Furthermore, customers with large orders or special circumstances such as using coupons or WIC checks make the self-checkout less than ideal. It’s situations like those that call for an actual cashier or the larger space allotted for a traditional cash register setup.
Retailers should consider other issues with self-checkout systems, too. For example, the systems make theft easier if customers don’t scan every item before placing it in their bag. Customers can easily “forget” to scan items or walk out without paying for items that don’t ring up. Shoppers who aren’t honest and trained in dealing with those situations might take advantage of the freedom granted by a self-checkout system.
Human Contact Still Counts
This might not be the best solution for mom-and-pop stores where consumers expect a personalized experiencing with one-on-one customer service. Stores that cater to people who aren’t technologically-savvy might also want to reconsider installing these checkouts, which rely on computers and touchscreens that not everyone is comfortable with.
The same applies to small store owners who might not be comfortable with technology themselves because these systems do require some training and knowledge. Compatibility with existing systems is also important. For these reasons, some wonder whether the push for self-serve checkouts is the best idea. Self-checkout machines are one answer, but they’re not the only answer. Consumers still want to interact with a real person.
This piece was contributed by Stanley Raymond, a freelancer based in the great city of Minneapolis. Stanley is interested in technology, computers, futurism and general gadgetry; lately he has taken a special interest in scanners and scanning devices, so click to learn more about hands-free barcode scanners as well as hand-held barcode scanners.
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