Checking Out Self-Checkout: Is It Checking Itself Out, As Well?

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In “Supermarket checkout still stuck in the past,” The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story about technology and the grocery industry. The Times notes that grocers have experimented with various technologies, but have been slow to adopt them because of cost and other factors. Quoting food-industry analyst Phil Lempert, editor of The Lempert Report, “Most consumers would rather have a competent cashier and bagger than any new technology.” It’s in part a matter of trusting technology, which leads to Lempert’s view of the future: “But what people do trust and value is their smartphone, and that’s an easy next step for the industry.”

A critical step in whatever technology is used – kiosks, websites, mobile apps, self-checkout, scanners or even (as we’ll see in a moment) talking shopping carts – is that it center around the customer. The customer must not only receive benefit but also recognize benefit. Contributing editor Lance Du Chateau took up that very topic in our most recent issue, in his “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.” Du Chateau reminds us that tech does not succeed without clear customer benefit: “Although self-checkout in the grocery world is unlikely to disappear completely, there is certainly room for both functionality improvements and an enhanced customer experience to create a material shift in usage. Of course, it’s better to incorporate a customer-centric focus from the beginning, when a new idea is in development. When customers drive a new program or process, they are far less likely to wreck it.”

And as an addendum, I discussed some rather extreme shopping tech in “Putting the Cart Before the Hoarse” – carts that follow you (literally follow you) through the store, and talk to you as you place items in the cart. Such ideas may be innovative, but do they properly align with how customers actually shop? Technology is most valuable when it enhances and supplements the customer experience, particularly when the tech alters that experience.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and colloquy.com, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.

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