The self-checkout – help or hindrance?

Debra Jamieson, Sales and Marketing Director at UKPOS

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Whether it’s a cinema, a petrol station or a supermarket, most retailers now have a self-service checkout in place. Great for saving time and space, self-check-outs are primarily used by the busy commuter to pick up a few last-minute items on their way home from work. For retailers, they provide a great opportunity to serve people faster, freeing up staff to address any queries on the shop floor ahead of purchase. A recent survey from Self Service World has estimated that there will be 60,000 terminals installed across the globe by 2018, proving that the quick-fire service is here to stay. And yet many people still maintain a love-hate relationship with them, with the words ‘unexpected item in bagging area’ filling us with dread.

Customer communication

Customer service is a vital element in the shopper experience and yet the self-service option can often make shoppers feel as though they are taking part in a completely isolated experience in which they are doing the majority of the work. Most retailers have an assistant on hand to help shoppers that have any queries but the ratio of staff to shopper is frequently out of proportion, with staff running to and fro to authorise a purchase, answer a customer query or approve the number of bags that you’ve brought with you.

Human interaction is a vital opportunity to engage with consumers and ensure that they have a positive in-store experience. A normal check-out is a much easier environment in which to achieve this, with staff able to help with packing or dash off and grab a last minute item as well as informing customers about any deals running in-store.

For the latter, it’s key that any deals you’re alerting customers to at the point of purchase have been displayed well throughout the customer journey. Information around deals that clip on to the side of the shelf are a great way to alert customers to special offers or promotions that staff at the check-out can point shoppers towards.

Security

One of the biggest selling points of self-service is its ability to allow the consumer to control exactly how long they are in the store for. Busy consumers want to be in and out of the shop as soon as possible – and with self-service, they can. The problem with this is that shoppers are rushing and frequently miss items or get frustrated when they have to scan them twice. Whether intentional or not, all of this is resulting in a huge increase in theft with shoppers admitting to stealing an average of £15 worth of goods every month.

Difficulty managing the machines isn’t helping, with security tags on large bottles of spirits, issues checking ID and problems with the bagging area often slowing down the process and putting customers in a mind-set that is more inclined to scan what they can and take what they can’t.

Point of sale can help here and is a great way to incorporate messages around the area of purchase, gently reminding shoppers to ask for help if experiencing a problem – as well as reinforcing that you have CCTV installed! Sometimes just a prompter is all you need to point the customer in the right direction.

Know your customer  

There is no one size fits all approach and what works in one store may not transfer to another location. While customers are certainly becoming more savvy in how to use self-service – and retailers are becoming better at providing on-hand support – some are still struggling to use the machines. Understanding your store demographic is key. A self-service checkout in the City of London for instance is likely to do very well and will play to the nature of the busy city worker. One in a more rural area however may not work as well – shoppers may accept self-service in busy stores but in quieter environments, there’s no excuse for staff not carrying out the interaction themselves.

www.ukpos.com