By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-08-06 Print this article Print

-Delusion"> Self-Checkout Self-Delusion No. 1: Customers want self-checkout. The argument that customers want it usually works in that customers like to feel in control, they like their privacy and they want to get out of the store quickly. Lets take these one at a time. Customers do like feeling in control, but as they struggle with machines that operate with a spouselike intolerance of error, do they indeed enjoy such a feeling? Customers like their privacy. When is the last time you heard a neighbor complain about shopping at the local grocery store because they didnt want the clerk to see their purchases? The clerks typically dont seem to care. Nosy neighbors behind you in line are more likely to be concerns. And those neighbors will still be behind you in the self-checkout lanes.
Customers want to get out of the store as quickly as possible. True, very true. But retailers and vendors alike say that they often encourage self-checkout usage by deliberately allowing the neighboring cashier lanes to get very long. This isnt one of your warm and fuzzy "make the customer feel valued" strategies, Im guessing.
But it is true that customers want to get out as quickly as possible. The only problem is that customers are actually slower than professional cashiers, so the getting out more quickly is also a sleight of hand. Some defend this further, saying that it feels quicker because the customer is so busy. Are these the same people that install those buttons by traffic lights so the pedestrians can amuse themselves while waiting for the light to change? Self-checkout could bring security problems. Click here to read more. Reality: Consumers do not want self-checkout, but they do want the long-term benefits that the cashier redeployments will bring. Make that case to customers and employees, and the self-checkout pitch will go a lot easier. Self-Checkout Self-Delusion No. 2: Send the equipment boxes to the stores and everything will quickly fall into place. Like any other strategic retail-technology investment, self-service needs a lot more than cables, software and hardware to be successful. The idea needs enthusiastic support from every layer of corporate and multiple layers at the store level. The rollout must be advertised and accompanied by incentives, the self-checkout lane must be staffed by very well-trained people to answer all questions. Stick it in the corner with no signs, lighting or effective people support, and dont be surprised if it doesnt deliver. Click here to read about practical and technological hurdles that self-checkout faces. When we were preparing a series of stories on self-checkout, I wrote that claiming that consumers want self-checkout because they dont want to endure the long lines that you purposely created is a cross between "which came first: the chicken or the egg?" and cynical existentialism. I was told that existentialism isnt typically discussed in columns about retail technology. But I cant resist. The American Heritage Dictionary defines existentialism this way: "A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of ones acts." Sounds a lot like typical self-checkout marketing to me. Check out eWEEK.coms Retail Center for the latest news, views and analysis of this vital industry.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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