The Randalls in downtown Houston has removed its self-service checkout registers. When we left a message with Randalls' corporate office asking why, we received an official statement from community relations manager Dawne Proffitt that says, “In planning the redesign of our Midtown store and focusing on providing great service, the decision was made to remove the self-checkouts.”
However, a store employee we had interviewed the day before said it was “because of theft. It was a corporate decision. It wasn’t my decision here at store level or anything like that.” We wondered whether the "corporate decision" affected all Randalls stores, and called the Cypress location. An employee we spoke with there said that while that store still had self-checkouts, the hours that customers were allowed to use them are now limited to between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Proffitt staunchly denied that theft has anything to do with the decision to remove the self-service registers at the downtown store, and said, "No, our focus is providing great service and engaging our customers." She said that two additional check stands and two more express checkouts would be added — but those are not self-service.
For a variety of reasons, some stores have decided that self-checkout isn’t working as well as expected. In fact, an article in Fortune magazine about CVS getting rid of the automated lanes in some stores pointed out that it should be called “assisted” checkout.
That’s thanks to all the possible complications when a customer rings up and pays for his own items. Ages must be verified for alcohol purchases. The correct codes should be entered for produce. Sometimes, coupons refuse to scan properly. Very light items aren’t detected when placed in the shopping bag. Then, there’s the phrase no one wants to hear: “Unexpected item in bagging area.”
Costco eliminated self-checkouts in 2013, and CEO Craig Jelinek told Bloomberg it was because “employees do the work more efficiently.” However, the year before, the Fierce Retail website reported that a “Costco management source” said one particular store showed a $60,000 inventory loss over a six-month period after implementing self-checkout. In a business with a mere 7 to 10 percent markup, that’s a substantial hit on the bottom line.
Theft at self-service checkouts doesn’t happen only in the United States. A 2014 report in The Telegraph said shoppers in the U.K. confessed to stealing 15 British pounds every month. (On the day the report was published, that was equal to $24.84 per month in U. S. dollars.) Fruits and vegetables were cited as the most likely items to be stolen. The saddest (or, possibly funniest, depending on the perspective) part of the report was “the majority admitting they first took goods because they couldn’t work the machines.” These were apparently crimes of frustration, not malice (at least, they were at first until people realized they could get away with it.)
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We contacted other grocery store chains to find out if they were also considering getting rid of self-checkout lanes. Robert Najera, H-E-B’s director of customer service, said, “We have no immediate plans to eliminate self-checkout from our stores. We are always evaluating ways to make the checkout process more convenient and as of now, we feel this is a good option for our customers.”
Similarly, public relations manager Kristal Howard of Kroger stated that, “All cash registers are considered “front end” in our stores, so I reached out to our front-end manager to get a little more ‘color.’ She’s not in the office, but I can tell you confidently that we have no intention to remove self-checkout from any of our store locations.”
Self-checkout lanes at retail stores have been a “love it or hate it” issue since their introduction. Some people feel these automated systems take jobs away from people, while others welcome the ability to get out of the store quickly without having to interact with a cashier.
In the coming days, we’ll take a look at why people love self-checkouts — and why others hate them. What's your opinion? Are self-service registers glitchy monsters, or the best thing that ever happened to retail stores? Leave a comment below.