BOISE, Idaho — Albertsons LLC here said last week it plans to eliminate self-checkout systems from all stores by the end of August so it can focus more on customer service, a move Kroger is also testing at a single location.
“We feel like having regular checkstands or express lanes where a person can actually have a conversation with a checker is a better approach,” Christine Wilcox, the company's director of communications, explained.
The 217-store chain, which is separate from Supervalu's Albertsons division, began removing some unmanned checkstands last year as it remodeled stores. It plans to complete the process at the 100 stores that offered self-checkout by the end of next month, Wilcox told SN.
She said the space formerly devoted to self-checkouts is being filled with regular checkstands or express lanes. “There isn't a standard configuration that we're replacing them with — it depends on the store and what that store needs,” she said.
Wilcox estimated that only a small number of customers were using the self-checkouts, “and re-setting the stores as we'redoing is more feasible for us and for customers,” she said.
So far the response has been “mostly positive,” she added, “with most people telling us they prefer having someone check them out.”
Meanwhile, Kroger Co., Cincinnati, opened a store last month in Houston that eliminated self-checkouts in favor of six additional manned express checkout lanes. The store also added a system that directs shoppers to the next available express cashier.
Greg Buzek, president of IHL Group, Franklin, Tenn., a research company that follows self-checkout systems, said the industry trend is still moving toward more self-activated checkouts, however.
“My guess is that, in supermarkets that offer self-checkout options, approximately 10% of all transactions go through the self-checkouts,” he said.
Buzek said the number of self-checkout installations grew 5% in 2009 and 11% last year and is projected to increase another 11% this year. “Without question, the installation rate should increase an average of 9% a year through 2015,” he said.
What supermarkets need to understand, he noted, is where to install them and where not to.
“The self-checkouts work best in areas where there are more professionals who travel a lot and who are used to automated systems at airports and other locations,” Buzek told SN. “Where they don't work well is in environments with large elderly populations — because they prefer to have full service — and areas with strong union components.”
The systems are used more in the Midwest, where Wal-Mart has a greater competitive impact, he said, and less on the coasts, where Wal-Mart is less of a factor.