Bye-bye self service?

basket.jpgAlbertson’s is bidding farewell to all its self-service checkout lanes. The move offers Albertson’s a fair amount of “attaboys” because in addition to restoring a more human touch to the checkout process, in order to offer that human touch, more humans will have to be hired, so they get to look like heroes for doing their part to create jobs. You can read more about it here.

This is a good idea for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that these self-service checkout lanes don’t really accomplish the improvements in efficiency that they originally promised. On paper it looks like a great way to save money. In practice, however, I’ve seen this move actually be counterproductive. There is ALWAYS something going wrong with these self-checkout stations (items won’t scan properly, and so forth), which then requires the frustrated customer to seek the assistance of the beleaguered employee who ends up spending about as much time fixing the problem as he or she would have spent ringing up the entire transaction in the first place under the traditional checkout process.

What I think we’ll see next is a system that bypasses the typical “checkout” system altogether. As items are placed in the cart, the bill can be tallied right then and the money collected electronically and the groceries need be handled only once. More labor could then be reallocated to serving the customers by helping them find items, keeping the store clean, loading the customers’ groceries in their cars, etc. The widespread usage of the smart phone will accelerate this process.

Cost control is not a matter of cost cutting but of cost prevention.” – Peter F. Drucker