Monday, July 11, 2011

Self Checkout Lanes Might Be a Thing of the Past

We all have seen the self checkout lanes in various stores, from home improvement stores (like Home Depot) to grocery stores (like Shaws) to large stores (Wal-Mart and BJ's).  When they arrived on the scene about 10 years ago, I remember overhearing the customer behind me complaining about them.  Of course, I couldn't wait to use them.  The idea that I could quickly purchase my items in lanes with little or no lines was very appealing.  Usually, the self checkout lanes were empty or at least the people who use them only have a handful of items to purchase.   This makes for a fast line!  Jackpot!

The screen was set up in grocery stores so that you scanned the bar code or entered the produce number and the built in scale weighed the products for you.  This part went relatively smoothly.  I only had trouble with the part where after you scan your item, you place it in the bag.  The sensor weighs the bag and if enough weight doesn't register, the computer would freeze up and call a "sales associate" over to help.  This process became tedious if I was purchasing lightweight items like a greeting card, or a small package of screws, etc.  I spent more time waiting for the sales associate to attend to my needs than actually scanning my items.  So, there were times when the self checkout option was beneficial to me and times when I felt that it was not.
I hear some other customers complaining that people lost jobs because the self checkout lane required no person to man the computer.  This notion is not entirely true. it did reduce the number of people required to man the station, but not eliminate them.  One clerk can man a station that monitors 4 self check out lanes, rather than hiring 4 clerks.... And this only works at times.  If the self checkout lanes are busy, more supervisors are required.  In this instance, the self checkout lane became a tool to assist the customer, not a replacement for actual people.

But, now there is a trend to get rid of self checkout lanes and replace them with express lanes and clerks.  Albertsons is a major supermarket chain in the south and they are doing just that by removing the self checkout lanes in 100 grocery stores. They believe that the interaction between clerk and customer is good for business.

My take...
I understand why this chain is removing self checkout lanes.  As a consumer, I appreciate the choice of being able to zip through a self checkout lane or wait in line for a clerk.  An efficient and careful clerk is great, but honestly, I can't say that I encounter that too often.  I more likely encounter clerks who are incompetent.  They damage my produce, overfill bags, combine chemical products and breads or are just so  slow.  The result is that my products are damaged and this costs me time and money.  If a self checkout option prevents this, than I appreciate that.  By, the same token, I realize that self checkout lanes are not fool proof.
What are your thoughts?

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