As with so many things in life and convenience retailing, self-checkout offers both pros and cons, and it is up to the operator to decide what makes the most sense for their stores.
Self-checkout systems are most commonly found in large grocery and retail stores to generally mixed reviews. However, self-service units are available for smaller retailers, as well, and can be especially useful given labor shortages in many markets. More c-store retailers are testing them or rolling them out across their stores today.
As frictionless checkout, including just walk-out technology and scan-and-go apps, increase the trend of cashier-less checkout, many customers are coming to expect a checkout process without employee interaction.
Self-checkout kiosks can make operations easier for businesses with high-traffic and/or multiple locations, and customers generally perceive self-checkout to be faster. Self-checkout may offer fewer benefits to convenience stores compared to other retailers since some transactions necessitate employee involvement, such as age verification for alcohol and tobacco.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
A shorthand summary of the pros and cons of self-checkout systems in convenience stores looks like this:
- Pro: reduced labor costs; fewer cashiers needed freeing up employees to manage other tasks, which is especially useful given labor shortages.
- Pro: faster, easier checkout. Customers can skip the line as these stations can allow more customers to pay for their purchases at the same time.
- Pro: minimal employee-customer contact, which has been seen by many as a plus in the wake of the pandemic.
- Pro: customers are used to the service from experiencing it at grocery stores, and many prefer it.
- Cons: upfront cost and possible service costs.
- Cons: some customers might find the technology difficult to use.
- Cons: some customers prefer a face-to-face experience and might find the self-checkout kiosks to be impersonal.
- Cons: potential opportunity for theft.
Another thing to consider is that taking the staff member out of the checkout equation can also cost stores an opportunity to suggest items and mention promotions that could lead to larger rings and prevent bonding with regular customers.
Managers must also be ready to assist customers who may be unfamiliar with using the stations.
At the same time, management must be careful in seeing that the self-checkout kiosks themselves are frequently wiped down and sanitized.
Unfortunately, self-checkout can also raise the likelihood of theft. Kiosks can be easily defeated by unscrupulous customers who deftly switch barcodes, weigh expensive items as less-expensive ones, or drop a product into a bag — possibly inadvertently — without scanning it.
Still, c-stores looking to position themselves as an upscale and tech-forward experience are increasingly looking to remove friction from the customer experience. Self-checkout is one way to help customers enjoy a checkout process without wait times. If customers know they can get in and out of your store quickly and easily, they’re likely to make it a destination in the future.