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More self-service technology coming to stores near you

Tesco’s Fresh & Easy chain in the US has uniquely adopted an all-self-checkout model that was initially questioned but has latterly gained increasing customer acceptance, according to the grocer’s internal research. By Glynn Davis


More self-service technology coming to stores near you

As many as 90 per cent of its customers indicated that they were either 'satisfied or very satisfied' with the checkout experience, and in a separate independent survey some 60 per cent of shoppers found the arrangement 'favourable' while another 27 per cent stated that 'it doesn't matter' what format the checkouts take. A lesser 13 per cent stated that they would prefer a conventional staffed checkout.

These findings support the argument from self-checkout manufacturer NCR that such equipment is

finding increasing favour among both retailers and consumers. Speaking to the Retail Bulletin Mike Webster, chief of strategy and communications officer at NCR, says that at Fresh & Easy it is possible to have every lane at every store open at all times of the day.

The average five 'scan and bag' and four 'belted' lanes (for larger baskets) in each store has helped Fresh & Easy deliver on its broad promise of making things easy for the customer, according to Webster, who suggests that the findings in the US will undoubtedly be factored into the domestic market in the future.

Helping the Fresh & Easy situation is the fact that bananas are the only product available loose (because they are too variable in size and react badly to shrink-wrapping) whereas everything else is packaged and bar-coded, thereby reducing the potential for problems at checkout and for the intervention of staff.

This reduction in the need for staff assistance has been achieved through the ongoing development of self-service technology with Webster citing the introduction of more advanced barcode look-up tables that are indexed on the most popular products sold in each store and improved standard deviation on the weight measured versus the weight expected of items.

There has also been a reduction in the footprint of the checkouts with Webster saying that the current space required, which can be half that of a traditional staffed checkout, will likely fall by as much as 30 per cent in the short-term. The clearly provides a great benefit to the retailer as it frees up valuable store space and enables checkout staff to be deployed elsewhere in the store on more value-added activities.

“There is an opportunity to manage labour more effectively by putting the staff away from the tills and in the aisles. This is a primary driver of self-service for retailers,” says Webster.

Self-checkouts can also be used as a means of reducing in-store staff numbers with Webster saying that in certain countries this need for fewer employees is a major benefit as retailers often find it difficult to recruit staff as a result of ageing populations or labour shortages caused by high levels of migration.

However, Webster says it is not the retailers that are driving the increased adoption of self-service but more the consumer. This is leading to a key trend in self-service checkouts - the increased penetration of such checkouts in-stores.

Whereas in the past the density of these units in an outlet was 15 to 20 per cent of the total number of tills it has risen to account for 50 to 60 per cent of checkouts today. “This is a very noticeable increase which shows there is a consumer demand and that there is a significant business impact,” he says.

Another trend is the adoption of self-checkout by non-food outlets. Having been a regular sight in grocery outlets they are now starting to appear in other retailers such as DIY, pharmacy and petrol forecourts. Among the early adopters in Europe are French electricals retailer FNAC, Portugal-based department store El Corte Ingles and IKEA in Sweden and the US.

Finally, Webster suggests retailers are also starting to consider implementing other forms of self-service technology such as navigation kiosks, which help shoppers to find specific products in-store, and pre-order counters that could enable items from the deli to be ordered before being picked up by the customer as they navigate around the store.

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