I have to confess I loathe a self-checkout. They’re buggy, frustratingly slow, and a tragic sign that businesses are willing to take livelihoods away from real people in the name of commerce. I can feel my cells dying when the sensor accidentally double-scans my liter of milk and I have to wait ages for a poor, run-off-ther-feet clerk to restore justice to the world. But I was resigned to what seemed like a certain fate: With our mania for integrating technology into our lives, the self-checkout was unfortunately here to stay.
But, according to the venerable BBC, the future of the technology is far more complicated. It seems that the multi-million dollar investment in the supermarket’s Next Big Thing (that started in the ’90s!) has peaked. Users and proprietors alike have a variety of reasons to have had it up to here with the self-serve kiosks. For the former, see my above litany of flaws! And for the latter, they can facilitate outright fraud (remember that whole “ring everything in as bananas” hack?).
“In a 2021 survey of 1,000 American shoppers, 60% of consumers said they prefer to use self-checkout over a staffed checkout aisle when given the choice, yet 67% of consumers have had the technology fail while trying to use it.
The bottom line is businesses want to cut costs, and shoppers want to get in and out of a store. If self-checkout isn’t the answer, they’ll find another avenue.
‘It’s not that self-checkout technology is good or bad, per se… [but] if we try self-checkout and realize we’re not benefiting from it, we might switch back to not using it,’ says Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas, who studies consumer behaviour and decision-making.
That appears to be happening in many cases, as customers’ frustrations with the technology persist. But [sociology professor Christopher] Andrews says that while stores may change up their strategies – as seen with Dollar General and others – many large retail chains are likely to keep kiosks in stores due to sunk costs. ‘They spent billions putting it in stores, and are hoping they can still get the public to buy into it,’ he says.
While the shine is off this particular apple, stores seem to be willing to offer more opportunities to choose between staffed and unstaffed checkouts, versus throwing the tech to the curb entirely. What a capitalist choice, putting both options in the hands of consumers and seeing which come out on top! I know I’m in camp Have a Lovely Chat About the Weather with a Living Human over here. But either way, we consumers will come out of it with our groceries, one way or another!