The Self-Checkout Backlash

The Self-Checkout Backlash

The modern solution is starting to feel like outdated technology. But is it really a “failed experiment”?

Self-checkout backlash

It’s a common phenomenon, right? The technology designed to make life easier somehow results in a slew of other problems. Since they first became common more than a decade ago, self-checkout kiosks have been fraught with issues of one kind or another—and I'm not just talking about how you can't easily buy booze with them. But that annoyance is part of it.

I'll admit, I used to get some childlike amusement from scanning my items. It's all fun and games until you're hit with that damned “unexpected item in the bagging area” prompt, right? Then you need to locate the usually lone employee charged with supervising all of the finicky kiosks, who will radiate exasperation at you while scanning an ID badge and tapping the kiosk's touch screen from pure muscle memory. It seems that everyone has come to hate these machines—both customers and retailers alike.

Or as The Atlantic put it recently: Self-checkout is “a failed experiment.” They haven't really helped with checkout lines or employee morale. Which is why a lot of companies are turning their backs on the technology. Walmart has removed the kiosks entirely from some of its stores and are bringing back cashiers (while redesigning others to make them more efficient and customer-friendly). ShopRite also brought cashiers back into stores after a flood of customer complaints.

Of course, many corporations still see them as winning cost-cutting solutions that reduce the number of employees. After all, machines won't ever ask for a raise or time off, and they don't get sick. But they do need to be serviced by highly skilled professionals who are increasingly hard to hire.

According to a recent survey, 67% of customers said they've experienced a self-checkout “fail”. And sometimes an honest mistake results in a stinging customer service fiasco. Walmart now uses automated “missed-scan detection” to reduce theft at its self-checkout kiosks. But shoppers say they've felt “treated like thieves” due to honest mistakes and technical glitches. Meanwhile, not all customers are so innocent. Costco has begun cracking down on card-sharing by staffing its self-checkout lines more heavily. So, in terms of robots taking over everything ... it seems like we still have some things to figure out. And for now, I'll let the cashier scan my wine.

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The real reason store self-checkout kiosks have mirrors? To deter potential shoplifters by making them reflect on the crime before they commit it.