Blog | 27 February, 2018


Self-service check outs – short cut to consumer happiness and retail success?

They’re everywhere. From supermarkets to hardware stores, self-service machines are an increasingly common sight. The benefits? Faster, more convenient checkouts for the shopper – fewer queues, greater privacy and control and a speedier purchase process. For the retailer the main benefit lies in lower operator costs.


Self-checkouts in supermarkets are increasing as businesses battle to reduce costs and increase service efficiency. A survey of multiple countries found 90% of respondents had used self-checkouts, with Australia and Italy leading the way. There are now 200,000 of the machines in stores around the world. And that number is expected to reach more than 335,000 by 2020, according to figures from London-based research and consulting group RBR. In Britain alone the number of self-service tills grew from 7,000 in 2008 to 42,000 in 2015.


The newer machines don’t just scan and take shoppers’ cash. Self-checkout kiosks can also be programmed to upsell, with special offers and coupons tailored around the consumers’ purchases.


In theory, these machines deliver big benefits to retailers. They take up less space than a manned till, potentially meaning that more tills can fit in the same space, they reduce queues thereby improving the shopper’s experience and create opportunities to upsell. Aside from the obvious technology costs, having customers do some work themselves can mean less overhead costs for companies. Shoppers also gain value from taking control of the transaction – being able to ring up their own goods and pack them the way they want. A sense of control over their own shopping can lead to greater customer satisfaction and intent to use and re-use self-serve technology.


However, not everyone’s a happy shopper. Overall, 4 in 5 use them but 93% say they can be frustrating. According to research by the retail-technology company Tensator, 1 out of every 3 British shoppers polled had walked out of a store without the goods they intended to buy, simply because of a bad experience with a self-service checkout. Items miss-scanned, not bagged, age restricted items and faulty machines all add up to a frustrating and potentially long check out experience. This indirectly impacts on the supermarkets’ bottom line through reduced customer satisfaction and loyalty.


Then there’s the issue of theft –impacting directly on the bottom line. A study of 1 million transactions in the UK found losses incurred through self-service technology payment systems totalled 3.97% of stock, compared to just 1.47% otherwise. Research shows that one of the drivers of this discrepancy is that everyday customers – those who would not normally steal by any other means – disproportionately steal at self-checkouts.


Are self-service check outs a short cut to consumer happiness and retail success?