Self-checkout stations are growing in popularity

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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 percent 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, News

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