Why self-service checkouts are struggling to win shoppers’ hearts

Jan 23, 2024
The most recent discoveries are sure to intensify the ongoing debate regarding the balance between convenience and a personal touch in the retail sector. Source: Getty Images.

In the fast-paced world of modern grocery shopping, self-checkout lanes promise convenience, speed, and a dash of independence. Yet, according to a new study from Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, it seems these high-tech helpers might be losing the loyalty game against their more traditional counterparts.

Led by Dr. Yanliu Huang and Dr. Farhana Nusrat, their five studies revealed that customers tend to stick with a store more when they use traditional checkouts. This loyalty, shown by a greater likelihood of returning to the store, was recently published in the Journal of Business Research.

Huang and Nusrat found that the perceived ease of checkout and a sense of entitlement are important factors explaining this loyalty effect. They also noted that the number of items purchased during the shopping trip influences how the type of checkout affects customer loyalty.

Despite the advantages of self-checkout, such as speed and convenience, the researchers discovered that self-checkout might still result in lower customer loyalty, especially when dealing with a relatively high number of items.

“Our findings indicate that self-checkout systems, despite their advantages in terms of speed, ease of use, and cost reduction, can result in lower customer loyalty compared to regular checkout systems, especially when the number of purchased items is relatively high (e.g., more than 15 items),” Huang said.

The effort needed for self-checkout and the expectation of being served by the store negatively impacted customer loyalty. However, if shoppers see the extra effort in self-checkout as a rewarding experience, their loyalty matches that of regular checkout shoppers.

To overcome the downsides of self-checkout on customer loyalty, Huang suggests that encouraging shoppers to view the extra effort in self-checkout as a rewarding experience could help improve the overall shopping experience and, in turn, boost customer loyalty.

“For example, to overcome the negative impacts of using self-checkout on customer loyalty, retailers should attempt to make the self-checkout experience more rewarding, like encouraging shoppers to think the extra effort involved in self-checkout is a rewarding experience,” Huang said.

“Doing so offers retailers a solution to improve their self-checkout customers’ overall shopping experience, which in turn will facilitate higher customer loyalty.”

Despite such challenges, it seems that Aussie supermarkets are committed to keeping self-service checkouts in place, much to the dismay of those who appreciate some human interaction during their shopping experience

A Woolworths spokesperson told news.com.au that feedback from customers indicates that self-service checkouts remain a popular choice due to their “convenience and speed”.

“Millions of transactions are made using our self-service checkouts every single day,” the spokesperson added.

While a Coles spokesperson labelled them a “great option” for shoppers as they provide “efficiency”.

“Because of this they are the checkout of choice for more than two in three customers, and we continue to see these numbers increase,” the spokesperson told the publication.

“Over the past year, we have seen greater customer satisfaction and uptake in our self-service options.”

The most recent discoveries are sure to intensify the ongoing debate regarding the balance between convenience and a personal touch in the retail sector. Our Starts at 60 readers are no exception, with diverse opinions on this hot topic.

Some over-60s swear by the efficiency of self-service checkouts, praising quick transactions and shorter lines for their convenience.

On the flip side, some value the human connection in shopping. They fondly remember the days when friendly cashiers handled transactions and advocate for a return to more personalised retail experiences.

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