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Albertsons LLC Removes Self-Checkout

Albertsons LLC Removes Self-Checkout

In the News

July 24, 2011

Earlier this month, Albertsons, LLC, which has stores in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas, made major headlines when they began removing the bulk of their self-checkout stands from their stores. Around 100 of their 217 stores had self-checkouts at the beginning of the year. The balance of stores either never had self-checkout or had them removed in previous remodel projects.

Though the visibility of this endeavor only recently peaked, Albertsons, LLC actually began removing self-checkout stands about three years ago. The last phase of the project rolled out at the beginning of this year, and the process is now nearly complete. This change does not affect Albertsons stores in other states, where they are separately managed by SuperValu.

Christine Wilcox, Public Affairs Director for Albertsons, LLC, says that in the years since self-checkout’s introduction, their company became more focused on providing an exceptional customer service experience that self-checkout lanes weren’t allowing them to provide. She says that the most efficient way to serve customers is to offer them the opportunity to talk with employees when they shop in the store.

“If a customer has a chance to talk with someone before they leave a store, it's far more likely that they'll let us know how it went – whether we met expectations, if there were items they were looking for but couldn't find, and so on, rather than not saying anything. We want to know how we can better service our customers when they shop, and that interaction between them and our associates, right when they're in the store, is key to making that happen,” says Wilcox.

Self-scanning checkout stations have become popular cost-cutting tools for retailers in recent years. In 2008 alone, transactions at North American self-service kiosks surpassed $607 billion, and some experts predict this spending could reach over $1.7 trillion by 2012.

Interestingly, a 2008 study published in Services Marketing Quarterly, found that although 90% of the 114 respondents had used self-service checkout before participating in the study, the majority experienced a negative perception of the system when there was one other customer waiting in line to use the machine behind them. Study researchers at Villanova School of Business, University of North Carolina-Wilmington and Western Carolina University referred to this perception as a type of “stage fright,” and found that shoppers felt more comfortable shopping at self-checkout lanes when going through the line solo. Ultimately, they concluded that the placement of self-checkout locations in the store was important to improve use, as was continued consumer education on how to use the technology.

Wilcox, however, says that Albertsons, LLC has not become ambivalent about self-checkout – they’ve just become more focused on person-to-person customer service. While she says that they can’t speak for all grocers, they have found that at their company, consumers are not only taking the time to talk to each other more, they're also talking to and about our company more than ever before via social media channels.  

“Because we're part of those conversations, we decided we wanted to provide more individualized customer service to those who shop with us,” says Wilcox. “As for the controversy that has recently been stirred up, we've been removing self-checkouts for years without comment or controversy.”

Though SuperValu-owned Albertsons stores will not be removing their self-checkout lanes, other grocers have been experimenting with the concept. Kroger is testing a store without self-checkout lanes in Houston. They are also looking into other checkout concepts, including the European-style “Metro” lanes, where customers line up in one long swift-moving line. Still, regardless of the way checkout is accomplished, the goal of keeping customers happy is at the heart of the matter.

As for future of self-checkout, Wilcox points out that if it makes sense for a company’s continued customer service strategy, then it makes sense for that company to use it. In other words, she says, the success of every new technology is dependent upon adoption, acceptance and sustained use. 

“There are lots of retailers out there who’ve never implemented self-checkout or who tested it in a handful of stores and didn’t expand it,” says Wilcox. “Every retailer has to make decisions based on its own customer service philosophy. This fits ours.”