Blog: Dean BestChecking out the latest in self-service technology

Dean Best | 19 September 2011

The use of self-service technology can attract praise and criticism in almost equal measure from shoppers and, in recent weeks, it has attracted a fair amount of column inches.

Unmanned tills and the like are designed to make a shopping trip easier, as well as having, cynics would say, the added benefit to a retailer of reducing labour costs in-store.

However, self-checkouts, for one, can cause frustration among consumers for any number of reasons, from a product barcode not scanning correctly to the length of time it takes to find the code for a piece of fruit or veg in the on-screen list.

And, in recent weeks, a number of retailers across the pond have decided to scale back their use of self-service technology. Kroger and Albertsons are among those retailers and, last week, US regional retailer Big Y Foods joined them.

Big Y has decided to remove self-checkouts from its 61 outlets in Connecticut and Massachusetts after concluding that the technology "could neither improve nor replace the value of a friendly cashier". The retailer argued that the checkouts did not save consumers time; they made their shopping trips longer.

However, self-service technology does have its advocates both among shoppers and retailers. Consumers enjoy the speed and convenience of, for example, self-checkouts. And, while some retailers are questioning their use of certain concepts, other retailers are looking to spend more on self-service.

On Friday (16 September), US technology firm NCR said its self-checkout technology would be used by Tesco across Central and Eastern Europe. Tesco is now rolling out NCR's tills in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

"New technology has a big role to play in making shopping easier and more convenient for customers. The NCR compact self-checkouts give our customers a quick and easy option to pay which they really like," Tesco chief information officer Mike McNamara said.

It's clear, then, that, even just on self-checkouts, there is much debate over their effectiveness. Self-checkouts, of course, are not the only concept in use in-store. This month, just-food's management briefing focuses on self-service technology, looks at the concepts in use and discusses what the next developments could be.


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