How the pandemic changed our attitude to self-checkouts

Article by Martyn Jones | 20th September 2021

A common observation about the pandemic is that it has “changed everything”. While there may be some truth to this, it would be more accurate to say that the pandemic has accelerated changes that were already taking place. 

This is certainly the case in retail. Online shopping and Click & Collect were already growing in popularity before 2020, but the pandemic turned this gradual increase into an explosion:

  • 19.4% of UK sales took place online in 2019. By January 2021, this figure had risen to 36.5%
  • In 2019, experts predicted that online spending in the UK would increase 30% by 2024. Instead, it increased 46% in 2020. 
  • In 2018, Global Data predicted that the UK Click & Collect market would increase 55.6% by 2022. This may well have already happened, with almost half of UK shoppers saying they are more likely to use Click & Collect as a result of the pandemic. 

A divisive technology

Ecommerce and Click & Collect have always been popular amongst customers, but self-checkout is more controversial. Since it emerged in the early 2000s, shoppers have had a love-hate relationship with the technology:

A 2013 poll found that 93% of shoppers disliked self-checkouts.

  • The same poll found that 83% of customers were frustrated by the need for colleague authorisations. 
  • Things had improved by 2018, with over half of shoppers preferring to use self-checkouts. This rose to 75% for those aged 18-24.
  • But older customers continued to have trouble with the technology. One in four over 70s said that self-checkouts put them off shopping altogether. 

There’s no doubt that self-checkouts were growing in popularity before the pandemic, but they were never universally embraced. Older customers tended to avoid them and even younger customers often found them frustrating. 

This all changed in 2020. At the height of the pandemic, 55% of customers were scared of catching COVID-19 while shopping.  Customers were keen to spend as little time as possible in store, and self-checkouts were the perfect way to do this. The minor annoyances of SCOSs now paled in comparison to their benefits:

  • Self-checkout use jumped by 9% in May 2020
  • Three quarters of customers used self-checkouts frequently in 2020
  • 74% of these customers plan to continue doing so after the pandemic

The pandemic has changed customer priorities. Find out more here: 

Self-checkouts are here to stay

Despite their initial reservations, shoppers have come to view self-checkouts as a necessity. A recent report by research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that, by 2022, 87% of all customer interactions will begin with self-service. In 2019, this figure was just 49%. 

Self-checkout is no longer optional, but there are things you can do to make it more effective. Our products are designed to mitigate the negative aspects of self-service so that both you and your customers can enjoy a frictionless experience:

  • Headsets allow colleagues to authorise purchases from anywhere within sight of the checkout. This means that customers don’t have to wait while you walk between checkouts. 
  • Remote authorisations also improve security as colleagues can monitor all checkouts at once from a single position. 
  • Call points can be placed on SCOs, allowing customers to call for assistance. Pressing the call point sends an automated message to all nearby colleagues, telling them the location of the query. Colleagues can decide whether to attend to the customer personally, or answer their question remotely using their headset.  
  • Call points allow you to unman self-service areas without running the risk of customers feeling abandoned. Removing one colleague from this area can save you £702 per week per store.  
  • Adding call points to self-checkouts also helps you to maintain personal contact with customers. This is reassuring for older shoppers who may feel alienated by automation.  

Self-checkouts are useful but they’re not perfect. With a little help from VoCoVo, you can create a solution that keeps everyone happy. Drop us a line to find out more. 

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