KENNEDY: Self-checkout stations are growing in popularity

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Take a gander at any list of disappearing U.S. jobs, and “cashier” is sure to be there.

It’s easy to see why: Retailers running the gamut from supermarket to drugstore to hardware and general merchandise outlet have added self-scanning checkout stations to shopper options.

And customers want the choice, according to a September survey from Toshiba, a store technology-device maker, and PYMNTS.com, an online news and data site focused on payment platforms.

Their poll of nearly 2,700 U.S. adults found that 80% would like to use nontraditional checkout methods for in-store purchases, including a smartphone app, employee-assisted mobile device, “smart” shopping cart and self-scanning, seeing them as faster and more efficient than waiting in register lines.

But what if scan-your-own is your only choice?

That’s the case at Five Below, the tween-and-teen retailer of trendy, kitschy stuff priced at $5 or less.

I stumbled on the company’s new prototype over the summer at a relocated store on Route 9 in Latham. There, you don’t interact with a cashier, but with a scanner after choosing whether to pay by cash or card. (The day I was there, an employee concierge asked “Cash or credit?” before directing shoppers to the appropriate terminal.)

Five Below is pushing big time into self-scanning, with company executives saying that 60% of stores will have the devices by year’s end.

The company, which expects to finish the year at 1,200 stores, says the self-scanners can nearly double the number of checkout stations in a store to nine, up from an average of five previously.

Five Below began investigating self-scanning in 2018, transcripts of earnings calls show, and rolled them out in stores in mid-2020 as the economy reopened after the COVID lockdown.

Known internally as ACO, or associate-assisted self-checkout, it “allows our crews to move from behind the register to the floor to assist our customers with their shopping and checkout process, which makes for a better and faster customer experience,” CEO Joel Anderson has explained.

Others soon may follow.

Walmart tested the all-self-checkout concept at an Arkansas supercenter near its corporate headquarters in Bentonville last year and has added other test sites since then. The stores have no traditional register lanes but a bank of 30-plus scanning stations at the front of the store.

Walmart employees, called “hosts,” greet shoppers at the entrance to the area to direct them to a scanner, and will provide assistance if needed — even doing the scanning and bagging if asked.

Shep Hyken, a customer service expert at consultant Shepard Presentations in St. Louis, says that while self-service has been growing in popularity, an employee touch remains important, especially for shoppers new to the technology.

“For self-scan checkout to work, customers must learn how to use it … That’s why there must always be an employee to step in and help,” he told me this week.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business

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