Are You Being Served? (And Do You Really Want to Be?)
Self-checkout options first appeared in grocery stores more than a decade ago, offering
shoppers a “quick” and “easy” alternative to lining up. Now, self-serve alternatives appear
everywhere, from fast food restaurants to movie theatres. But do they truly offer consumers
ease, speed, and convenience? Maybe not.
In a recent episode of the television show Marketplace, shoppers were provided with identical
grocery lists; some were asked to use the self-checkout, while others lined up for a cashier.
Interestingly, the cashier was faster, and made fewer mistakes. The show noted that mistakes
are common among self-serve customers, who often enter the incorrect code or push the wrong
buttons. Employee input is required to fix the mistakes.
The technology does offer companies proven benefits. As Marketplace reported, an early
experiment by McDonald’s found that consumers spent an average of 30 percent more when
using self-checkouts, possibly because they might be too embarrassed to upsize their order in
front of the cashier.
Of course, the self-serve option saves money that would otherwise be spent by businesses to
staff checkout lanes, supply desks, and kiosks. According to a report on self-service published
by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the cost of an airline staff member
check-in is $3. The cost of a passenger checking in via a self-service kiosk is 14 cents.
For many consumers, it’s not about time savings or convenience; it’s about doing it yourself.
These days, many shoppers prefer to take control of the process and navigate the checkout or
check-in process by themselves.