New York (CNN) – Unexpected item in the packing area.
Please put the item in the bag.
“Please wait for help.”
If you encounter these annoying alerts related to your self-checkout machine, you’re not alone.
According to a survey of 1,000 shoppers last year, 67% said they experienced a failed self-checkout line. Newspaper and magazine mistakes are so common that they have even spawned dozens of memes and videos from TikTok.
said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Laboratory of Agro-Food Analytics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who has conducted research on self-checkout services.
Customers aren’t the only ones frustrated with the self-checkout experience. Stores also face challenges however.
Machines are expensive, often break down, and can lead to customers buying fewer items. Stores also incur greater losses and more thefts at automated checkout compared to traditional checkouts with tellers.
Despite the headache, the self-propelled process is increasing.
In 2020, 29% of transactions at food retailers were processed through self-payment, up from 23% a year earlier, according to the latest data from the IMF food industry association.
This begs the question: Why does this rejected technology often take over retail?
Get customers to do the work
The introduction of self-checkout machines in 1986 was part of a long history of stores shifting business from paid employees to unpaid customers, a practice dating back to Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service supermarket, in the early 1900s. XX.
Instead of the employees behind counter-assembling products for customers, Piggly Wiggly allowed shoppers to walk the aisles, pick items off the shelves and pay at the register. In exchange for more work, the model promised lower prices.
However, self-propelled is primarily designed to reduce labor costs in the store. The system reduced checkout costs by up to 66%, according to a 1988 article in the Miami Herald.
The first modern self-propelled payment system, which was patented by CheckRobot in Florida and installed in many Kroger stores, today’s shoppers will almost never be able to recognize.
Customers scanned their items and placed them on a conveyor belt. An employee at the other end of the belt is packing the merchandise. Then customers took them to the central checkout area for payment.
This technology has been heralded as a “revolution in the supermarket”. The Los Angeles Times said in a 1987 review that shoppers “become supermarket employees because automated payment machines shorten long cart lines and reduce staffing costs in grocery stores.”
But self-pay hasn’t revolutionized the grocery store. Many clients were reluctant to have to do more work to achieve benefits that were not entirely clear.
It took Walmart a decade to self-checkout. Only in the early 2000s did the trend accelerate on a larger scale in supermarkets, which were seeking to cut costs during the 2001 recession and faced stiff competition from emerging big box stores and warehouse clubs.
“The logic was based on the economy, not the customers,” Charlebois said. “From the beginning, customers hated them.”
A 2003 Nielsen survey found that 52% of shoppers found the self-checkout aisles to be “good,” while 16% said they were “disappointed.” Thirty-two percent of buyers described it as “excellent.”
The mixed response prompted some supermarket chains, including Costco, Albertsons and others, to recall self-checkout machines that were installed in the mid-2000s.
“Self-checkout lines are clogged because customers have to wait for store staff to help them with barcode issues, coupons, payment issues and other issues that always come with multiple transactions,” the grocery chain said. Big Y in 2011 when he canceled his devices.
The move to self-pay has also had unintended consequences for stores.
Christopher Andrews, a Drew University sociologist and author of “The Weary Consumer: Self-checkout, Supermarkets and the Do-It-Yourself Economy,” said retailers found that self-checkout stations were not self-contained and required regular maintenance and monitoring.
Even though self-check counters have eliminated some of the traditional teller jobs, they still required employees and created a need for higher-paying IT jobs, he said.
Andrews added that the self-propelled system “doesn’t deliver on anything it promises”.
In store owners’ biggest headache, self-pay leads to more losses due to errors or theft than traditional cashiers.
“If you had a retail store where 50% of transactions were through automatic payment, the losses would be 77% higher” than the average, says Adrian Beck, professor emeritus at the University of Leicester in the UK.
Customers make honest mistakes and deliberately steal self-checkout machines.
Some products contain many barcodes or barcodes that are not scanned correctly. Products, including fruit and meat, usually need to be manually weighed and entered into the system using a code. Customers can type the wrong code by accident. Other times, shoppers won’t hear a “beep” confirming that an item has been successfully scanned.
“Consumers are not very good at scanning reliably,” Beck said. “Why should they be? They are untrained.”
Other customers benefit from poor supervision in the self-checkout lanes and have developed stealth techniques. Common tactics include not scanning an item, exchanging a cheaper item (bananas) for a more expensive one (steak), scanning the fake barcodes taped to their wrist, or successfully scanning everything and then walking away without paying.
Stores have tried to limit losses by enhancing self-propelled security features, such as adding weight sensors. But additional anti-theft measures also lead to more frustrating errors for “unexpected items in the packing area,” requiring intervention on the part of store partners.
“There’s a good balance between security and customer convenience,” Beck said.
Self checkout is here to stay
Despite the many shortcomings of the self-pay process for customers and store owners, the trend continues to grow.
Walmart, Kroger, and Dollar General are exclusively testing self-checkout stores. Costco and Albertsons have reintroduced the self-propelled after getting rid of it years ago. Amazon has taken this concept a step further with cashierless Amazon Go stores.
Simply put, it may be too late for stores to turn their backs on self-pay.
Today’s stores cater to shoppers who see self-checkout as faster than traditional cashiers, although there is little evidence to support this. But because customers are doing the work, rather than waiting in line, the experience can feel like it’s moving faster.
Store owners have also seen that competitors are installing a self-checkout feature and have decided they don’t want to miss out on it.
“It’s an arms race,” said David D’Arezzo, a former CEO at Dollar General, Wegmans and other retailers. “If everyone’s doing it, you look like an idiot if you don’t have it.”
“Once you take it out of the bag, it’s very hard not to present it anymore.”
Covid-19 has also accelerated the spread of self-examination.
During the pandemic, many customers have opted for self-service to avoid close interactions with cashiers and baggage handlers. The challenges of hiring and retaining workers have led stores to rely more on machines to attract customers through the door.