How do you feel about the self-checkout lanes in retail and grocery stores?

Back in January, we asked this question on our social media pages:
How often do you use self-checkout when shopping at a store with that option? Do you prefer using self-check or checking out with a cashier?

We knew this was a hot topic, but we had no idea we’d hear from so many of you! We received so many comments on this post, and panel members had very strong opinions.

Got an opinion on self-checkout? Leave us a comment and let us know!

What Exactly is Self-Checkout?

You’ve probably seen it at a store near you, but self-checkout is basically a way for customers at a business to complete their transaction without assistance from another person. There are several ways a business can implement it, and many different types of businesses offer some form of self-checkout.

Typically, we think about big-box retail and grocery stores where there’s a separate space for self-checkout, and customers not only scan their own items but also bag their own items, often without any interaction with the store’s staff.

Restaurants and other small businesses have also started to implement various self-check options and contactless ordering, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we’re going to focus on self-checkout in retail and grocery stores.

Where Did Self-Checkout Come From?

David Humble, the president of an electronics company, was waiting in line at a grocery store. He was fed up with the slow-moving cashier, grabbed the scanner, and started scanning his items himself. The experience led him to wonder: why can’t customers just scan their own items at the store?

Humble convinced his company to develop a prototype, and self-service checkout was born. The machines were first introduced to the public in 1986 at a Kroger store in Georgia.

While his idea was sparked by his frustration as a customer, the system as a whole was intended to lower stores’ labor expenses. The trend picked up during the 2001 recession and had a mixed response from customers. A 2003 Nielsen survey found that 52% of shoppers thought self-checkout was just “okay,” with 16% calling them frustrating. Another 32% of survey respondents said they were “great.”

Not surprisingly, the comments on our posts ranged from “I love it!” to “I hate it!” to everything in between.

Let Me Do It Myself

Many of you like self-checkout because you want to bag your own groceries—this was a very popular response. Dorothy S. said she checks herself out at the store “most of the time. I prefer to bag my own stuff.” If you’ve ever ended up with a loaf of bread smashed underneath a cantaloupe, you probably agree!

Bagging your own groceries wasn’t the only reason some of you prefer the self-checkout lanes. Some of the other reasons panel members gave us:

  • It’s often faster than waiting in line for a cashier
  • You don’t want to make small talk with the cashier
  • Fewer hands touching your items or other concerns about germs

I’m Not An Employee

On the flip side, many of you dislike using the self-checkout lanes. The most common response from this group of people was concern for the cashier’s job and not wanting to contribute to people being out of work. Like Rita S. said, “I prefer human contact and job security, so I check out with a cashier whenever possible.”

Many of you also genuinely enjoy getting to know your cashiers and chatting with them while you’re checking out! Human interaction is an important part of life, that’s for sure. Other reasons for going to lanes with cashiers include:

  • You aren’t comfortable with the technology
  • You’re buying things that require a cashier, such as alcohol or produce that needs to be weighed
  • Large purchases are harder to manage at self-checkout

Either Way is Fine With Me

And of course, many of you don’t have a strong opinion either way, and you prefer whatever is easiest in the moment.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted some peoples’ opinions on self-checkout, too. We saw several comments from people with increased concerns about germs or cashiers coughing and sneezing. Some of you responded that self-checkout gives you more control about who handles your items and minimizes your exposure.

Whatever your opinions on self-checkout, it’s probably here to stay.

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