Sunday, December 9, 2007

Check it out yourself

A month or so back I had put a post on how Whole Foods is using a different approach to minimize check out times in its Manhattan stores. What I had noticed about Whole Foods was that they did not have any self checkout aisles. To me self check out is a very convinient option as I am very conscious about how many bags I use to fill my groceries. Often baggers at full service aisle, double bag and dont optimize the number of bags they use. But what I have often noted is that often a lot of customers get stuck with a bad label or produce item without PLU etc. That always use to make me wonder what is the benefit of this system. A full service aisle will help you checkout faster with experienced clerks entering and scanning your ticket items. The only explanation I could come up was perhaps the labor savings offset the investment. Turns out that self checkouts (SCO) isnt perceived any longer as a technology that helps you save some dollars but more of a customer habit. A very interesting article by Retail System Research's Nikki Baird talks about her experience at a user conference on self check outs. Some very interesting observations made by Nikki are summarized below,
  • "...many of their customers are already trained on using self-checkout, and so are coming to expect that SCO is part of the shopping experience – at least for groceries. To these retailers, SCO is a customer service play required to keep up with larger chain competitors. They view it as a customer service benefit, increasing the amount of choice a consumer has over how they go about buying their groceries"
  • "Consumers expect all of the same services at SCO as at any other register ". This is cited through an example of cash back transactions on debit cards. This is very convinient for a consumer as he doesnt have to take the trouble of stopping by an ATM. A lot of retailers dont provide this facility at self-checkout thereby affecting the customer convinience
  • "There needs to be enough space within the “pod” of self-checkout stations so that carts can maneuver – not less than seven feet and more like eight". This is an interesting observation and more important in a self checkout scenario since all the material handling is done by the customer. Now this reminds me of this neigbourhood grocery store who had their SCOs facing the entry/exit doors. Well you'd think that is convinient but during winter time I saw many a troubled customers as every time someone stepped into the store a cold breeze would sweep the SCO sending shivers through potentially loyal customers!!!

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