Gotcha! The Problems With Self-Service Checkout SystemsBy David F. Carr | Posted 2004-02-05 Email Print
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Self-service checkout systems have to be flawless. It only takes one bad experience to create an an ex-customer.
Self-checkout terminals are increasingly employed by retailersparticularly grocers. But many consumers remain unconvinced about the convenience of checking themselves out. How well an organization fields the technology can make the difference between whether customers walk away from the experience enthusiastic or discouraged.
Problem: Erroneous or missing data can be a show-stopper for a self-service consumer.
Resolution:Iron out the kinks at manned cash registers, before you open up self-checkout lanes. Self-checkout scanners read a bar code on every product; and for every bar code there's a price in the store database. "It's a lot easier for a cashier to overcome a 'not on file' error than it is for a self-service [customer]," says Dusty Lutz, product manager for NCR's FastLane self-checkout systems.
Analyze also how well the technology will fit into existing store operations, says Roy A. Garver, a consultant who has been involved in self-checkout implementations at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Home Depot and other companies. Retailers that fail to make that effort upfront will suffer through more problems after the technology is deployed, Garver saysand in the process will damage the customers' perceptions of the technology.
Problem: Ease-of-use is criticaland largely under the control of the vendor.
Resolution:Do everything possible to make your consumer's first encounter positive.
"It only takes one bad experience to turn a user into a non-user of self-service," NCR's Lutz says. Consumers who become confused or embarrassed about their inability to complete a transaction may never come back.
Stores can make systems friendlier with clear signs describing the steps in the processparticularly those steps that aren't obvious, such as placing produce on a scale during checkout.
Jakob Nielsen, a human-factors designer, says brick-and-mortar stores ought to offer more clues as to how things work. But sometimes the physical design of a checkout unit undermines the application, he says. "Like the screen will say, 'Press "OK"' to complete your purchase,' but there's no 'OK' buttonit says 'Yes' or 'Enter' instead."
Problem: Your operations may not work the way your customers do.
Resolution:Think through what the customerand the systemhas to do. Self-checkout requires each item to be individually scanned. Deli items will have to be identified by bar codes instead of hand scrawl. Shortcutssuch as scanning a single jar of baby food 20 times to represent 20 itemswill have to be rethought. Project managers also will have to figure out how to handle coupons and loyalty-card discounts.
Problem: Don't let store personnel ignore customers in the self-service lane.
Resolution:Assign a friendly face to the technology, says Greg Buzek, principal analyst with IHL Consulting Group in Franklin, Tenn. Kroger employs some of its most experienced cashiers to greet customers, show them how to get through the process and overcome any snags.
Kate Delhagen, principal retail analyst at Forrester Research, is surprised more stores don't follow suit.
After all, showing customers how easy self-checkout can be is a good investment. "People don't like to feel stupid or [as if] they did something wrong," she says, so you have to get them over that hurdle.