90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

May I Help Myself? The Decline Of Self-Checkouts

Self checkouts, like this one at Costco, have met with mixed results, with several major chains. (Courtesy: Kirby Urner)

Self checkouts, like this one at Costco, have met with mixed results, with several major chains deciding to pull them out of stores. (Courtesy: Kirby Urner)

Self-service technology was supposed to speed up service and save retailers money by reducing the number of employees. But a recent study by the Arlington , Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute shows that in 2010, customers at self-checkout stores only used them about 16 percent of the time. That’s down from 22 percent three years ago.

Meanwhile, some major chains, including Big Y, with stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and Idaho-based Albertsons, have eliminated their self-checkout lanes.

Is this a reverse trend? Or are stores waiting to see what the next evolution of self-service technology will be?


  • David Livingston, an independent supermarket consultant based in Milwaukee , Wisc.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Guest

    It’s not an issue with human interaction, it is that the machines are terrible.  They have annoying voices and repeat themselves constantly.  They also complain endlessly if the weight of something doesn’t seem right in the bagging area.  Forget bagging things yourself.  A decent machine that was a little nicer would be great.

  • Kathy

    I must be missing something because self-checkout is fantastic. It’s fast and easy. It also works to separate those people who seem to view supermarket shopping as a social experience from those of us who want to buy our groceries and get back to our lives.

    • scott

      Yes, and it also kills jobs, Kathy. It’s getting hard to find work in this country. People need jobs. I say good riddance to self-checkout lines. 

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KUVA2SXHB446SARHME2BCOS5UY stewart

        Why not eliminate Earthmovers, then, Scotty?  Then, you can create Ten’s of Thousands of back-breaking jobs, overnight, right?  Doofus.  We need to ELIMINATE repititous mindless jobs, that machines can do so much better, and so much cheaper.  Then, we (the USA) mops up on the inovative research to develop, install, service all these hyper-productive hyper-leverage machines.  Doofus.

        • Mpelajic

          with sco (self checkout ) the only person that is doing work is customer, and why ? so, a customer is doing mindless job instead of a cashier ..

  • J Frog

    Democrats like cashier checkout because it increases employment.  Republicans prefer self-checkout because it cuts costs.  Tea Partiers poll as liking self-checkout…but generally use cashier checkout.  Occupy Wall Streeters just sit in the store aisle.  College Administrators don’t use the checkout, they have several assistants do their shopping.

    • J Frog

      So why are the Occupy Wall Streeters sitting in the store aisle?  They’re waiting for their “change”, of course!

      • AssHat

        Please stop being a froget

  • erika

    i love self checkouts and always use them if they’re available. I’m in my 20s and mildly aspergian and have an eating disorder. I really prefer to avoid contact (judgement) with clerks especially if they’re very friendly or want to get to know me.

  • Hmmm

    I ALWAYS go to the self checkout in the supermarket—it’s quick and I my fruit doesn’t get bruised by a bored teenager who has no idea how to pack.

    On the other hand, only one out of five items at Home Depot can be scanned at the self-checkout without staff intervention…

  • http://TokyoJim.com Jim Gottlieb

    The problem is that self-checkout is usually slower than using a staffed checkstand.  Plus you have to bag yourself.  It’s only useful if you have just a few items and the other lines are too long.  There’s no way I’d want to take a cartful of items to a self-checkout kiosk.

  • Barbg76

    I LOVE self checkout.  I prefer to go to stores that have them.

  • Verge

    Self-checkout machines are people, my friends.  (Not!)  Choosing not to use self-checkout is a way to protest against corporations over-dehumanizing and robotizing everything in the name of Money.  It’s good to reduce costs, up to a point.      

  • http://twitter.com/RicherEarth Eric McNulty

    With unemployment at 9% I don’t want machines taking jobs they don’t have to.  It may make microeconomic sense, but it is a macroeconomic disaster. I call it the employment paradox: individual firms seek to shed employees yet we are better off writ large with high employment.

    I refuse to use self-checkout when there is a choice.  To make it even easier, I prefer to shop at locally owned and operated stores that generally don’t even think about things like automated check out.

  • Kowalskyks

    I prefer to use the self checkout lanes.  I have tried for years to convince the bagger person that I don’t need one plastic bag per item.   I bring my own bags and it seems to confuse them.  When I check myself out I can get a cart’s worth of groceries into 4 reusable bags and I don’t have to argue with anyone about it.  Sometimes I think the grocery stores have stock in the plastic bag company and try to use as many of them as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nphen Nathan Downing Phenicie

    At Meijer 24 Hour Super Centers in Michigan, Self checkout lanes are “booming.” Each Meijer store has 12-14 self checkouts. During a busy Saturday or Sunday, all 14 lanes are filled up. At night, 8 of the lanes on one side of the store are all open, and usually only one cashier lane. The Self-scans continue to provide quick checkouts all night. Customers are just glad they can get groceries, alcohol, a vacuum, a car battery, health and beauty care, and every thing else they need at 1:30 AM!

  • BHA in Vermont

    Try going to a Lowes. If they are all like the one near me, there aren’t many options. There is a total of 3 NON self checkout.
     One at the service desk – so you have to wait for all the people in front of you that aren’t even checking out.
    One with a cashier
    One at the far end for contractor checkout.
    All the rest are self serve.

  • BHA in Vermont

    I do use the self checkout at the grocery store, though some are better than others.
    I do it mostly because I have big canvas bags and I want them packed with the refrigerated stuff in one and the non refrigerated stuff in the other. I want the gallon milk jugs IN the bag. No matter how carefully I line the items up, the bagger mixes and matches. It helps if the checker or bagger knows you.

    The problem with self checkout at one store I go to:
    - You can’t use coupons or bottle return receipts
    - You can’t put the stuff in you bag on the scale. You have to pile it all up, pay THEN bag it.
    The other store I frequent has a person at the end of each group of 4 self serve stations. They clear the bag weight so you can scan and load (MUCH more efficient and keeps the line moving) and they take the coupons when you have scanned everything. Unfortunately, this store has some other ‘features’ I don’t care for much.

  • Ker0pi

    The only place that has self check out where I live is Costco and I love it.  Once they put in the self check out I stopped going to the cashier at Costco.  They have one employee who’s job it is to over see the 4 self check out registers.  He is friendly and manages to say hello to everyone and helps when ever there is a problem (pricing, coupon, or item not scanning).  He always comes right over and offers to help scan the heavy items so I do not have to remove them from the cart.  The self check out at Costco goes faster and easier than all the cashier lines, but they only accept credit or debit cards at self check out.  I would not use a self check out line at my local grocery store for my large weekly purchase.  I would not want to have to look up code numbers for all the fresh produce I purchase.  I would consider a self check out at the grocery store if  I was purchasing less than 10 items.

  • http://twitter.com/kendallcorner kendallcorner

    When I check out at the grocery store, I am solely focused on time.  The self-check waits until you bag something before it lets you scan another. In this time the checker can scan 4-5 items.  Add to that the potential for the self-check to error (for me it’s about 1 in 4) and the fact that payment usually takes longer as well, and I usually go for the checker.  If there are more than 2 people in line in front of me, I will consider the self-check, but only if I have only a few items and if there’s no line over there.

  • Chairman

    We love self-checkout!  Less labor – my bonus gets that much bigger!  Thank you!  And good luck with that job hunt!   I hear Wal-Mart is hiring greeters…

  • Brandnewday

    I MUCH prefer the self-checkout lanes. It is much faster. I can quickly go in and out of the grocery store without wasting time in line waiting for someone to do something for me that I can capably do myself. I am certainly not there to make friends with the check-out employees. Where I WOULD like to see a helpful, cheerful employee is out in the aisles helping me find things that have been moved…again. THAT would be a more effective use of their “customer service” energy and resources.

  • Dlollie

    I use the self checkout only when I have a few items and scannable items.  If I have veggies or marked downed items, I go to through the cashier tended lines

  • anonymous

    My favorite thing is when people look at me (cashier on register) and make the conscious decision to use self-checkout yet complain about how they take jobs and are inconvenient.


Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 16 7 Comments

Kathy Gunst Explores Community Supported Agriculture

Kathy Gunst joins Cook's Illustrated executive food editor Keith Dresser at his CSA pickup and offers recipes for the seasonal CSA fare.

September 16 11 Comments

Remembering Jesse Winchester

Jimmy Buffett remembers his friend the late songwriter Jesse Winchester, whose posthumous album is being released today.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.