Could self-checkouts become the norm across all retail sectors?

By Ed Smith, freelance journalist.

Self-checkouts have proven to be an increasingly popular option for shoppers to take control of their own scanning of items. It can feel a little quicker and allows you to scan then pack your goods at your own pace rather than trying to keep up with a cashier.

There’s also the element of minimising touchpoints with other people over the last year which has factored into the call for more self-checkouts in other areas of retail. We’ve delved into this to see whether we could expect to see self-checkouts almost everywhere in the not-too-distant future.

The rise of retail technology

You’ve probably noticed how the retail landscape has changed over the last 10 or so years, with self-checkouts and self-scanning checkouts cropping up in supermarkets and many other retail spaces.

Since 2013, the number of self-checkouts worldwide was around 191,000. This then grew to around an estimated 325,000 self-checkout units in 2019 and hasn’t showed signs of slowing down. This is in line with the significant growth in demand for self-service retail technology, with people citing faster shopping experiences as a primary reason.

In the last 18 months, there’s been a significant uptick in the demand for self-checkouts in line with the global pandemic. Supermarkets such as Aldi have expanded their offering of retail technology in their stores, while retailers in other sectors like fashion have introduced self-service kiosks to give customers the option.

Self-service equipment has been modified with protective screens during the pandemic to provide greater protection to shoppers, along with frequent cleaning of surfaces – but this hasn’t deterred shoppers from utilising the technology.

Pros and cons for shoppers and retailers

Depending on whether you’re looking at things from the perspective of a customer or a business owner, there are benefits and drawbacks to having self-service technology. These are just a few of the things which add and detract from having self-checkouts in place within retail.

Pros

For shoppers, it can provide:

  • Shorter lines which move quicker
  • Better privacy
  • Improved customer experience (when everything works as intended)

While for retailers, it adds:

  • A reduced labour cost per kiosk
  • Better optimisation of store space

Cons

For shoppers, it can result in:

  • Frustration when self-service machine doesn’t work as intended
  • Long wait times if attendants are pre-occupied

While for retailers, the points to consider are:

  • High installation costs
  • Reliance on software functioning
  • More maintenance costs for upkeep

Where will you likely find self-service checkouts?

As you’d expect, supermarkets and local supermarket locations are the places where you’re most likely to find self-checkouts. These places can save on staff members and queue times as people who are popping in for one or two things can opt to use self-service rather than needing to queue up for cashier-manned tills.

Some lower-end fashion stores may also gradually pick up more self-service technology as the stores get more comfortable with its implementation. It also allows for the synthesis of eCommerce and bricks and mortar stores if you can add functionality around a customer’s online account.

Fast food chains have also started leveraging self-service kiosks for ordering food, meaning employees can focus on delivering the items which appear on a kitchen display system (KDS).

Where will self-checkouts be unlikely to be found?

Higher-end stores which focus on tailored customer service, as this is part of their brand awareness and expertise. DIY stores and furniture stores will probably be among the last to take up this technology (although IKEA has pioneered self-checkouts in this sector so far).

Retail with high-priced items will also be unlikely to take up self-checkouts as it presents a risk of shoplifting. Unless greater security measures can be implemented to offset these risks, technology retailers will probably avoid installing checkouts for a while longer.

There’s potential for self-checkouts to become regular fixtures in more stores within certain industries, but it’s unlikely that they’ll become the primary form of checkout across all retail sectors. That said, their benefits are hard to argue against – as is consumer demand. Given how many more have been installed in the last few years, who’s to say that we won’t see exponential growth by 2025?

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