Point-of-sale self-checkout is most often viewed and judged from the perspective of labor cost savings. Allow customers to check out on their own, have a single store associate oversee up to four stations, and everyone benefits with lower staff costs for the retailer and new self-service options for shoppers.
But the value equation for self-checkout extends well beyond cutting costs. The greatest impact may lie in the systems' strategic, if indirect, power to boost loyalty and improve the shopping experience for customers who probably won't use self-checkout yet provide the greatest profits to the business.
Instead of focusing exclusively on cost savings, savvy retailers are starting to leverage and integrate self checkout systems within the broader strategic context of total customer service and brand building.
Self-checkout ideally is positioned as a tool for shoppers with the smallest basket sizes -- and likely the lowest profit contributions -- to scan, pay and exit the store as quickly as possible, with a minimum of staff interaction.
For many retailers today, that is still where the benefit ends. But there is much more.
The greatest opportunity is in freeing up traditional lanes for customers with the largest and most profitable shopping carts and in catering to those best customers in a more efficient and also positive manner.
By altering the dynamic, shoppers with the largest and most profitable carts can enjoy shorter wait times on traditional checkout lanes and, ideally, better service interacting with trained associates.
Traditional POS lanes offer the best opportunity to add a personal touch to the in-store experience. That in turn can lead to improved customer loyalty and branding.
Making such a scenario work - like implementing any significant program - requires some staff training to match outcome to vision. It is key to make self checkout the process of choice for low volume shoppers as well as to optimize the traditional full checkout experience.
Among the steps retailers are taking to ensure success:
- Pull several of the highest performing checkout associates from the traditional lanes and assign them, for a limited time, to supervise self checkout. The goal: encourage customers with smallest basket sizes to use self-checkout and feel comfortable and confidence in owning the process
- Ramp up customer service for customers in traditional lanes. Speeding up full basket traditional checkout by encouraging low volume customers to use self-checkout lanes is a major benefit. But it doesn't stop there
- Train checkout associates on basic best practices for positive interactions with shoppers. Even saying hello and smiling enhances the power of the brands. Ensure cashiers are knowledgeable about and mention the benefits of loyalty programs
As with any part of the business, self-checkout impacts the overall brand and experience. At one end, lowering staff costs - which eat up such a large percentage of operating expenses - is a massive benefit. But retailers are also able to cash in on a much wider range of customer service and loyalty opportunities by making even relatively small changes in self-checkout vision and strategy.