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As a retail technology editor, I know that when it comes to the checkout, nothing is faster than a trained, experienced cashier. So whenever I shop in a store that has self-checkout lanes, I avoid them. After all, not only are customers slower than cashiers, self-checkout means I also have to scan and bag the products myself – two activities I don’t do particularly well.
The CVS near my apartment in Sunnyside, N.Y., has a very aggressive strategy to encourage shoppers to use the self-checkout machines. They simply don’t have anyone at the manned registers. No one. Not a single body. On three separate occasions when I visited the store of late, the checkout lanes were empty, and a front-end associate attempted to guide me toward the self-checkout, although my intended purchases required associate assistance due to age verification issues, which in turn, required a page to the store manager to take care of my needs.
On another occasion when I visited my local CVS for simple in-and-out purchase, I figured I’d give the self-checkout a shot on my own. I scanned my two items – a BOGO – but the promotional price didn’t appear on the register. I ask the associate about it.
“Do you have a club card?”
“Then it will show up at the end.”
I scan my other items, but immediately encountered yet another problem with the weight of one of the scanned items didn’t match what I scanned. The associate rushes over to carefully balance the items on the scale, which was finally reconciled, only to discover yet another snag. One of the items needed age-verification, which once again required associate assistance. All told, I was at the self-checkout for more than two minutes, and the associate had to help me twice.
I ask the associate why there is no one at the manned registers. “We’re trying to help people with the self-checkouts.”
“What about those who don’t want to use them?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
This is a perfect example of how deploying technology for technology’s sake can actually damage a customer’s experience. It’s clear that this CVS store is viewing self-checkouts as a way of reducing store labor, when in reality it is really reducing service.
Self-checkouts, like any other retail technology, should have a clearly-defined strategic business reason for existing, and topping the list of any of these strategies should be enhancing the customer experience or increasing the relevancy of the business to its customers.
That is the chief aim in our first issue of Progressive Grocer TECH -- which publishes for the first time this month -- as it will be in future issues of the supplement: to cover new and emerging technology as it relates to the improvement of retail operations, hence the tagline, “Technology and the Business of Food Retailing.”
Long gone are those days where the CIO was king. Now technology is primarily driven from the business side, with the IT department serving in a supportive role in terms of integration and maintenance. In fact, most technology decisions today involve three key groups: IT executives (who deploy, integrate, and maintain), line of business executives (who use the technology), and corporate executives (who sign the checks).
PG TECH is written with each of these groups in mind. And in each issue we’ll touch on the four key areas of the business which technology touches: In-store, Marketing/Enterprise-Wide Systems. Supply Chain, and Online/Mobile technology.
We hope you enjoy the first edition of our technology supplement and welcome your feedback.