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The Checkout Dilemma: Why Self-Checkout Falls Short and Checkout-Free Shines

Bonnie Milam Oct 20, 2023 7:00:00 AM

The introduction of self-checkout more than 25 years ago promised a revolution in how people shop. Customers were sold on the idea of a quick and hassle-free experience, free from the annoyance of long checkout lines and awkward small talk with cashiers. Retailers were convinced that self-checkout would reduce labor costs, making it an appealing investment.

A recent article in The Atlantic explains the reality of self-checkout has not lived up to these expectations. Self-checkout is far from being a perfect solution. Shoppers still have to endure frustrating experiences, from kiosks that beep and flash when items are mishandled, and the arduous task of locating a lone employee when assistance is needed. Purchasing age-restricted or quantity-restricted items becomes a time-consuming ordeal. These technological hiccups have rendered the promise of faster checkout times a mere illusion.

Retailers, too, have had to face the fact that self-checkout isn't the labor-saving panacea they once believed it to be. The initial investment is substantial and the ongoing maintenance and IT support services are expensive. Self-checkout machines can be unreliable and prone to malfunctions, causing inconvenience for customers. To compensate for these failures, retailers need more employees helping in the self-checkout area than originally budgeted. 

It's not even clear that self-checkout is faster than traditional checkout lines. Trained cashiers are more efficient at scanning and bagging items for customers. The perceived convenience of self-checkout is just that—a perception. A recent study showed that self-checkout is slower, yet people feel like it’s faster because they are doing something as opposed to standing still. Most self-checkout providers offer “convertible” models that can easily be switched into a full-service lane when lines begin to back up. This is evidence that providers realize traditional checkouts are faster than self-checkout. 

Theft has become a predominant concern when it comes to self-checkout. The act of scanning and bagging items without being closely watched presents opportunities for shoplifters. There are countless examples of common self-checkout theft, including the “banana trick” where expensive items are scanned as bananas, or the “switcheroo” where barcode stickers are swapped. While employees are responsible for supervising a bank of self-checkout kiosks, understaffed stores struggle to deter theft effectively. Retailers shift the responsibility of theft prevention onto customers, often locking up merchandise and creating an inefficient and unpleasant shopping experience.

So, what's the solution? It's time for retailers to consider checkout-free technology as the way forward. A checkout-free system offers a promising alternative. Customers can simply check in to the store with a valid payment method, take what they want, and leave the store without going through a checkout process. This technology eliminates the need for self-checkout machines or traditional checkout lanes and ensures a fast and seamless shopping experience. It also eliminates the need for store associates to oversee the checkout process, allowing them to focus on providing assistance and a better overall shopping environment. And, because payment is validated before entering the store, the risk of theft is significantly reduced. 

Checkout-free technology offers a more efficient, convenient, and secure shopping experience for customers and reduces the cost and complexities associated with self-checkout. It also frees up valuable floor space that can be used to merchandise additional items. It's time for retailers to embrace the future and invest in checkout-free to delight their shoppers and employees and improve their bottom line. 

For more information on Zippin’s checkout-free technology, visit our website.

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