Self-service technology to take over

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd May 2008

Grocery stores worldwide are beginning to move toward self-checkout technology with success. Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, has now adopted an all self-service checkout model in their US Fresh & Easy stores, which has been met with support from consumers after initial skepticism. Tesco Fresh & Easy has also updated their systems to better suit the technology, as they now have all their fruit (except bananas) in packages with barcodes to ensure the consumer has fewer potential problems at the checkout.

Self-checkout technology is relatively new in Australia compared to the rest of the world, with Woolworths the first supermarket to use the equipment. Woolworths have now committed to having self-checkouts installed in 70 of their supermarkets before the end of June.

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 new technology may prove difficult to get used to, particularly as consumers are often resistant to change. The benefits are obvious, however, with the reduction in queues particularly noticeable during non-peak times, as supermarkets are able to keep all the aisles open during both peak and non-peak times. And it appears consumers are beginning to realise this, with a recent survey by Tesco indicated 90 per cent of US consumers were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the new technology, while an independent survey reported 60 per cent thought the changes were ‘favourable’ and a further 27 per cent did not mind, according to Retail Bulletin.

The Woolworths experiment in Australia will be monitored carefully, and expect many more supermarkets to update to self-service checkouts in the next few years, as consumers realise the time-saving potential of the technology.