How could self-checkouts be improved? We look at the future of automated self service

Article by Martyn Jones | 12th January 2021

COVID-19 has permanently altered our shopping habits. Certain technologies have grown in popularity while others have faded into the background. Along with internet shopping and Click & Collect, the big winner of the pandemic has been the self-checkout. 

Even before the pandemic, you probably noticed a steady migration to self-checkouts in stores. A 2018 survey found that 57% of shoppers preferred to use a self-checkout. By 2019, this had risen to 73%. Self-checkouts have become a part of the everyday retail experience. Just 2% of shoppers now claim to be unfamiliar with the technology.

This growth was driven by the convenience of self-service: 

People have grown used to purchasing items online with a single click. This makes them less willing to queue for long periods of time. Over 40% of UK consumers say they are less patient than they were 5 years ago. 

90% of customers avoid stores with long queues , and 70% will avoid these stores in future. Customers favour self-service because it reduces the amount of time they have to queue. 

The perfect technology for the new normal

Self-checkouts were already on the rise, but they came into their own after the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • 64% of consumers feared for their health in the early days of the pandemic. This meant that shoppers were keen to reduce their risk of exposure by speeding up the checkout process. 
  • 82% were concerned for the health of others, suggesting that people also had selfless motives for spending less time in store.
  • Up to three quarters of shoppers used self-checkouts during the pandemic, and 74% plan to continue doing so in the future. 

As well as speeding up the checkout process, self-service also reduces the need for face to face contact. This made it the obvious choice for the 24% of customers who felt anxious about a lack of social distancing in supermarkets. 

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Better for customers, better for colleagues

The popularity of self-service checkouts is good news for both colleagues and customers. Even in a world without COVID-19, self-checkouts have a number of advantages:

  • Self-checkouts take up less space. Depending on the model, you can usually fit 5 or 6 self-checkouts into the same space as one traditional checkout. 
  • Multiple self-checkouts can be overseen by a single colleague. Our research shows that if you remove colleague supervision for just one self-checkout, you can save you £702 per week per store. 

This frees up colleagues to focus on other tasks such as cleaning the store and stacking the shelves. In our recent survey of retail workers, 47% said that they would be more productive if they could get customers through the checkout quicker. 

Read the full report, ‘Empowering the Forgotten Frontline’ here

  • Self-checkouts reduce human error by counting money and giving change automatically. 
  • Self-checkouts encourage customers to spend more by reducing embarrassment. When Mcdonald’s introduced self-checkouts it found that its average order size increased. Customers were more willing to order large portions if they didn’t feel they were being judged by a cashier. Without the pressure of queues behind, customers can take time to decide what they want and be more tempted to order extra items.
  • Self checkouts are more accessible. Most machines have multiple language options and provide both written and aural prompts. 

Room for improvement

Despite its advantages, self-service checkouts are far from perfect. 74% of customers dislike entering items manually or waiting for a colleague to authorise a purchase. 59% of these customers say that they would be more likely to use self-service if this problem was solved.

Self-checkouts increase the risk of theft. Unsupervised customers can switch barcodes on items or weigh expensive items as cheaper items. A 2017 study found that British shoppers steal around £3.2 billion of goods from self-service checkouts every year. 

The lack of human interaction can be alienating for some customers. This is especially true for older people. 24% of over 70s say that increased automation has put them off supermarket shopping.

Creating a smoother self-checkout with VoCoVo

Our technology works in tandem with self-checkouts to increase efficiency and minimise customer frustration. 

  • VoCoVo’s ecosystem now integrates directly with self-checkouts. With an integrated microphone and speakers within the device itself, customer queries are raised immediately to colleagues. 
  • This sends a notification directly to our headsets, which then enables colleagues to verify or authenticate purchases instantly through voice activated command. This new functionality will have a huge impact on efficiency at the till. 
  • Our Call Points can also be placed on self-checkouts. If a customer requires assistance, they can press the Call Point to ask for help. This sends an automated message to all headsets, telling colleagues the location and nature of the problem. 
  • Colleagues can answer remotely via their headsets or, if manual intervention is required, the nearest colleague can attend. Colleagues can authorise purchases with a voice command from anywhere in sight of the checkout.

VoCoVo allows you to maintain the human connection that many customers feel is missing from self-checkouts. Customers can easily interact and have a clear two-way conversation with a colleague. 

VoCoVo can prevent up to 70% of thefts by linking all colleagues and security via their headsets. Suspicious behaviour can be reported discreetly and headsets can be used to call the police if necessary. 

Customers still have mixed feelings about self-checkouts. VoCoVo can help you to focus on the positives while ironing out the negatives. 

Need some advice on speeding up the checkout process? Drop us a line.

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