NATIONAL NEWS

Love it or hate it, self-checkout is here to stay. But it’s going through a reckoning

Dec 18, 2023, 7:39 AM | Updated: 12:15 pm

Customers use self-checkout kiosks at Stew Leonard's grocery store in Paramus, N.J., Wednesday, Dec...

Customers use self-checkout kiosks at Stew Leonard's grocery store in Paramus, N.J., Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in New York. Self-checkout faces a reckoning of sorts just as retailers are in the midst of their busiest time of the year. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK (AP) — The promise of self-checkout was alluring: Customers could avoid long lines by scanning and bagging their own items, workers could be freed of doing those monotonous tasks themselves and retailers could save on labor costs.

All that has happened since the rollout of self-checkout but so has this: Customers griping about clunky technology that spits out mysterious error codes, workers having to stand around and monitor both humans and machines, and retailers contending with theft.

“Going to the grocery store used to be simple, and now it’s frustrating,” said Cindy Whittington, 66, of Fairfax, Virginia. “You’re paying more. You’re working harder to pay for merchandise at their store. And it’s become an ordeal to check out. I should get a 5% discount.”

In 2021, self-checkout usage represented 30% of transactions, almost double from 2018, according to a survey of retailers by FMI, an industry group. And 96% of retailers surveyed offer self-checkout.

But the technology is also facing a reckoning amid the critical holiday shopping season. Some retailers are adding restrictions, while others are pulling out completely.

This past fall, Walmart removed self-checkout kiosks in three stores in Albuquerque, New Mexico as part of a location by location approach, but on the whole it is adding more than it is taking away. To reduce wait times, Target is now limiting the number of items to 10 that shoppers can scan in a handful of stores nationwide.

British supermarket chain Booths has been getting rid of its self-checkout at the majority of its stores for the past 18 months in reaction to customer backlash. A year ago, grocery chain Wegmans, citing “losses,” discontinued its self-checkout app that lets shoppers scan and bag items while they shop. However, it continues to offer self-checkout registers at its stores.

Self-checkout, first tested in supermarkets in the late 1980s, gained momentum 20 years ago. But grocers ramped it up even more three years ago to address the pandemic-induced severe labor shortages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says technological advances such as self-checkout and online sales have been the main driver in the declining number of cashier jobs, although there are no precise estimates on how many cashiers have been replaced by self-checkout. According to Labor Department data, there are about 1.2 million people currently working as cashiers, compared to 1.4 million in 2019 and the BLS expects the number to fall by another 10% over the next decade.

“We are at an inflection point where if Americans are willing to do this and show an interest, then stores will probably expand it because they want to slash that labor cost,” said Christopher Andrews, associate professor and chair of sociology at Drew University and author of “The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets and the Do-It-Yourself Economy.” “But right now they’re just seeing downside. They’re seeing frustrated customers. They’re seeing increased costs and shoplifting.”

Theft is indeed an issue. Andrews said a technology that relies on shoppers to do their own scanning and punch in product quantities tempts even law abiding citizens to be dishonest. It’s easy to just scan every other item or punch in codes for a cheaper item. Shoppers could also make honest mistakes, leading to losses for stores.

John Catsimatidis, chairman and CEO of Red Apple Group, owner of Gristedes and D’Agostino’s food stores in New York City, said he has no interest in self-checkout because of theft.

“Anybody who does it might as well hit your head over with a pipe,” he said.

Still, self-checkout isn’t going away, especially with still stubborn labor shortages. And plenty of people love it.

Ellen Wulfhorst, 65, said using self-checkout brings back her childhood when she played with a toy register.

“There’s something childish and fun about it,” Wulfhorst said. “I get a big kick out of sliding the product across the reader, and it goes beep. There’s a certain satisfaction to it.”

For Robin Wissmann Doherty of South Salem, New York, who has a progressive neurodegenerative disease and uses a walker, self-checkout makes her shopping experience easier.

The 67-year-old said she likes to shop at Stop & Shop because it has a “scan and go” technology that allows her to scan her items with a device as she shops and then tallies up her bill. She can either pay at a kiosk or at a manned register.

“The laser gun works for disabled people,” she said.

Stew Leonard Jr., president and CEO of Stew Leonard’s, a supermarket chain that operates stores in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, said 25% of its customers use self-service. That number could be up to 50% in the next few years. He noted one-third of its registers are unmanned, but he’s in a “holding pattern” and is thinking of limiting the number of items to be scanned.

Retailers have been adding cameras or sensors at kiosks to monitor shoppers.

Kroger, for example, has deployed artificial intelligence technology at a majority of stores that triggers alerts when something is amiss. For example, if a shopper fails to scan a particular item successfully, the system flags the error on the screen and prompts the customer to self-correct. If customers are unable to resolve the issue themselves, a light above the self-checkout blinks to attract workers’ attention.

There have been inroads for more advanced technology.

Amazon’s “just walkout technology” is in more than 70 Amazon-owned stores and more than 100 third-party retailers across the U.S., including airports. It uses sophisticated cameras and allows shoppers to check in with Amazon’s app on their phones and then walk out without having to check out. Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo has RFID chips embedded in price tags to power a self-checkout system at its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan, as part of a widescale rollout at its stores. Customers place their items in bins at self-service stations and pay — without having to scan items.

Still, for some workers who were supposed to be liberated from the monotonous task of ringing up customers, the tedium just comes in a different form.

Bernadette Christian, 59, a worker at Giant Food in Clinton, Maryland, mans six self-service stations at once, and she’s afraid to help or confront shoppers who she said have become angrier since the pandemic.

“It would be easy for us to be cashiers, and it would be a lot more safer in today’s world,” she said.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Researchers were able to locate a specific gene variant correlated with some people's weight gain, ...

Madeline Holcombe, CNN

Researchers have found a ‘clear genetic trigger for obesity’ that applies to some people

Obesity isn’t just a matter of food and exercise — it may be in your genetic code, according to new research.

11 hours ago

TikTok ramps up attacks on Biden administration in challenging prospective ban, and seen here, a vi...

Brian Fung, CNN

TikTok ramps up attacks on Biden administration in challenging prospective ban

TikTok ramped up its attacks on the Biden administration Thursday over a law that could ban the popular app from the United States, arguing in a court filing that US TikTok users could be forced to live on an “island” of content disconnected from the rest of the world if the platform is forced to find a new owner.

12 hours ago

Trucks have been delivering a nonstop stream of packages from Temu to a home in the western suburbs...

Tara Molina, WBBM

An Illinois family keeps getting packages they never ordered from Temu

Trucks have been delivering a nonstop stream of packages from Temu to a home in the Illinois suburbs lately, but the family is not ordering anything.

14 hours ago

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized to members of his family who objected to a new TV ad released Sund...

Meg Kinnard, Associated Press

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. fails to qualify for CNN’s debate

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has failed to qualify for next week’s debate in Atlanta. Host network CNN said Thursday the independent presidential candidate fell short of benchmarks both for state ballot qualification and polling

17 hours ago

Dave Drewry's pet donkey, Diesel disappeared in California five years ago and he’s been spotted l...

Scottie Andrew, CNN

A pet donkey disappeared in California five years ago was spotted living with a herd of wild elk

For years, Diesel's owners assumed the worst happened to their donkey after he ran away. But, a hunter found a particular sight when he was hunting deer earlier this year.

18 hours ago

In this still image taken from video of the Office of the New York Governor, Gov. Kathy Hochul sign...

Anthony Izaguirre

New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

New York's governor has signed a bill that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts suggested by a platform’s algorithm.

19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Love it or hate it, self-checkout is here to stay. But it’s going through a reckoning