Are grocery self-checkouts killing customer service or providing it?

Are grocery self-checkouts killing customer service or providing it?


Albertson’s grocery store has announced that it will be removing all of the self-checkout units in its 217 stores. The reason? The company is citing that it wants to provide better customer staff interaction than the self-check units allow.

This action is an about-face to the current trend in most conventional grocery stores. A growing number of chains now have self-checkout islands. The Giant Eagles here in Cleveland have full-size conveyer belts at their self-checkouts, encouraging shoppers to self-check a full cart.

According to a May Wall Street Journal article, grocers are taking the next step at 250 Stop ‘n Shops in the Northeast and scanning items themselves with a scanner that attaches to the shopping cart. Other stores introducing smart phone payment or self-scanning include Starbucks, Home Depot and Nordstrom.

Many of these stores claim they want to integrate self-scan into their stores so that those employees who aren’t working the registers as much can provide more customer service. (Hmm, I wonder if letting those employees go and getting a better bottom line figures in anywhere.)

But what I really wonder about is how all of these self-checking initiatives will play out. Sure, sometimes the last thing anyone wants to do is chat with the checker. But at times, those quick conversations or laughs can make someone’s day.

This discussion really begs the question: What is customer service today? Is it human interaction or interacting with a machine to get you in and out of a store as quickly as possible?

I can see computerized shopping doing well in certain regions, like New York City. But here in the Midwest, people seem to thrive on social interaction. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that at Cleveland grocery chain, Henein’s, you leave your cart at the checkout and then drive to a loading area where a delivery person loads your trunk while you stay behind the wheel. 

As everyday life becomes more automated, I sure hope that some stores follow Albertson’s lead and preserve human interaction.


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