Self-service checkouts disappearing from grocery stores, but other places still expanding

Here and Now

A self-service checkout machine awaits customers at an Ikea in Maryland. Some grocery stores are removing the machines, but other retailers are implementing them full-speed ahead. (Photo by Ben Schumin via Wikimedia Commons, cc-by-sa.)

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Self-service checkouts are disappearing from many grocery stores, and experts are divided over whether this is a permanent reversal, or just temporary change.

At Albertsons grocery stores, the self-serve machines are gone. Big Y and other grocery stores have followed suit.

"A lot of chains have found out you want to give the customer the best exit experience possible," said David Livingston, an independent supermarket consultant based in Milwaukee. "If you can put a face to that, and develop a relationship between the employee and the customer, that leaves the customer with a much more positive memory."

Livingston said his beef with the automated machines are all the problems you can run into: with coupons, with mis-marked prices and even when it comes time to pay.

Other experts, though, say the market for new installations is still surging, with new installations growing 10 percent per year.

Livingston often advises his clients not to make the switch, at least until we have better technology.

"They want to put their best people at the front-end, who are friendly and personable."

In the long-term, though, new technology may bring self-service checkouts back with intensity. Livingston said Kroger, the largest supermarket operator in the country, after Walmart, is testing something called a tunnel scanner.

The tunnel scanner scans all of the items in a cart, simply by passing them through it. Kroger's test with tunnel scanners is underway in Kentucky.

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