VILLANOVA, Pa. — A research study on shopper attitudes toward self-checkout systems suggests that some shoppers may feel self-conscious about using the technology in the presence of another user, and that retailers should manage store layout and advertising to address shoppers' concerns.
The study, funded by Villanova University here, examined whether a shopper's ability to comfortably and effectively use self-checkout equipment is affected by the presence of other shoppers using adjacent self-checkout systems. It concluded that in an area consisting of four self-checkout machines, a shopper's comfort level would be adversely affected by the presence of one other self-checkout user, but not by three other users or if the other terminals were unoccupied.
“The addition of one person to a TBSS [technology-based self-service] environment may threaten the confidence of an individual engaging in a less routine, more complex task,” said the study, “The Impact of Social Presence on Technology Based Self-Service Use: The Role of Familiarity.” But the presence of additional persons “may decrease the perceived risk associated with the purchase/task situation.”
Conducted at a Kroger store in Starksville, Miss., the study was based on surveys of 114 shoppers, two-thirds women, average age 39, who were each paid $5 to use a self-checkout and fill out a questionnaire afterward. About 90% of participants reported having used self-checkout in the past.
Thirty-seven of the shoppers used a self-checkout terminal with none of the other three adjacent terminals occupied; another 37 used a terminal with the three adjacent terminals engaged by staged shoppers; and 40 others checked out with one other staged shopper at a nearby terminal. None of the staged shoppers interacted with the surveyed shoppers. The study did not prevent other shoppers from entering the self-checkout area, or assess their impact on the shoppers in the study.
The results of the study were published in the July 2009 issue of Services Marketing Quarterly.
“Our hypothesis was that the more people using adjacent terminals, the less comfortable the [study subjects] would be,” said Michael Capella, assistant professor of marketing, Villanova School of Business, a division of Villanova University, who was one of the three authors of the study. “But we found they were least comfortable in the presence of one additional person while with three others it went back to being like nobody else was there.”
After checking out, the study subjects were asked if they were likely to use a self-checkout lane again and if they would recommend it to others. They were also asked if they felt confident or pressured about using the technology, and if they felt a sense of accomplishment.
The study results suggest that retailers should, through marketing and advertising, “encourage and educate shoppers on how easy the technology is to use,” said Capella. “They should be persuaded to try it, even though they might have initial trepidations with another customer present.” A TV ad might show someone looking at a self-checkout lane reluctantly while someone else proceeds through it, “pleasantly surprised at how convenient it was to complete,” said Capella.
Other recommendations include improving ease of use through “richer multimedia content and advanced functionality,” Capella said. “You want to make it as user-friendly as possible.” He also suggested not placing self-checkout lanes in a high-traffic area or near sensitive products “to decrease the likelihood of social influence.”