Woolworths trial self-checkout technology

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 21st April 2008

Woolworths is set to introduce self-checkout technology into 70 of their supermarkets by the end of June, with 16 outlets already equipped with self-checkout lanes.

Each of the 70 stores is likely to have about four self-checkout machines which will enable the customer to scan, weigh and pay for their groceries via cash, credit or debit cards. They will also allow the customer to get cash out, top-up mobile phone vouchers and receive petrol reward dockets.

To cater for those people who are not technology savvy Woolworths will ensure a staff member is nearby to deal with any customer confusion.

Self-checkouts are new to Australian supermarkets although Woolworths did trial similar technology at their Big W merchandise chain back in 2003. The technology has become increasingly prevalent in the US and Europe since the turn of the century and has proven to be popular with consumers. Given the global success the slow uptake by Australian supermarkets has been surprising especially when you consider that by 2003 a quarter of grocery chains in the US had trialled them with about 34,000 machines in operation.

The one issue with the new technology has been the potential for it to decrease the number of retail jobs available with many unions concerned about the possibility of such an outcome. Employers, on the other hand, stress that there will be no major decreases in jobs in the short-medium term due to the need for staff to assist people who struggle with the new technology. The number of long-term job losses, however, could be much more extensive.

Woolworths spokesman Marty Hamnett indicated that they had discussed the changes with unions and suggested jobs will not be lost due to the new technology. “This is not the death-knell of manned checkouts … and any change in staffing will be absorbed throughout other parts of the store,” he said.

With the potential for improvements in efficiency and consumer satisfaction expect to see the self-checkout technology in operation in many more Australian supermarkets within five years.