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Major Retailer Ditches Self-Service Checkouts And Puts Staff Back To Registers

A major retailer has made the shocking decision to remove self-service checkouts in 12,000 of their stores.
Credit: Alamy

A major retailer has made the shocking decision to remove self-service checkouts in 12,000 of their stores.

In a surprising move that has sparked widespread discussion within the retail industry, one of the US‘s largest retailers has announced the removal of self-service checkout stations from 12,000 of its stores.

This strategic decision marks a significant shift in the company’s approach to customer service and operational efficiency.

It’s reflective of a broader trend that may signal a pushback against automation in stores…

Self-service checkouts have become a common sight in grocery stores, retail giants, and fast-food chains, promising speed and convenience for customers.

However, their adoption has been met with a mix of enthusiasm and controversy, sparking debates over their effectiveness, impact on employment, and overall customer experience.

Checkout
A major retailer has made the shocking decision to remove self-service checkouts in 12,000 of their stores. Credit: Alamy

Introduced as a solution to reduce wait times and operational costs, self-service checkouts allow customers to scan, bag, and pay for their purchases without the assistance of a cashier.

Retailers champion these systems for their ability to streamline operations and handle transactions more efficiently, especially during peak shopping hours.

For many shoppers, self-service checkouts are a welcome innovation.

The ability to quickly process purchases without waiting in long lines is a significant advantage, particularly for those with a few items.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the touchless nature of these kiosks added a layer of safety, appealing to health-conscious consumers.

Despite the convenience, self-service checkouts are not without their drawbacks.

One of the primary criticisms is the potential for job loss.

As retailers invest in automation, the need for traditional cashier roles diminishes, raising concerns about the displacement of workers.

Customer frustration is another significant issue, because let’s face it – not everyone finds self-service checkouts intuitive or easy to use.

Technical glitches, barcode scanning errors, and the need for age verification for certain items often require staff intervention, making the whole process take much longer!

From a financial standpoint, while the reduction in labour costs can offer some savings, the initial setup, ongoing technical support, and frequent updates to the software and hardware can be expensive.

Additionally, issues like theft and unscanned items, known as ‘shrink’, pose significant risks.

Some studies suggest that self-checkout lanes can be more susceptible to theft, as the absence of a dedicated cashier can make it easier for shoplifters to go undetected.

@lifeofbecky Making us all wait & feel bad 🙄 #jobkiller #fypシ゚viral ♬ original sound – goldenbiscuit.tx

A Walmart shopper recently sparked a heated debate online by refusing to use the self-checkout to pay for a single packet of gum.

The woman, identified only as Grace in a TikTok video posted by her friend, declined to use the self-service option, labelling it a ‘job killer’.

Grace’s stance against self-checkouts echoes the sentiments of many who are concerned about the impact of automation on jobs.

The debate over self-checkouts is intense on social media.

One user on X (formerly Twitter) expressed frustration, saying, “Bring back grocery store cashiers. I’m not talking about one or two. I’m saying all registers need to be occupied again,” concluding with ‘please and thanks’ and calling self-checkouts ‘bull cr*p’.

Despite the backlash, some customers shared positive experiences with self-checkouts, often encouraged by store employees to use them for small purchases.

A TikTok commenter mentioned, “I did that once for 3 items and the cashier told me to use self-checkout next time.”

In the viral video, customers and cashiers urged Grace to move along and not hold up the line, illustrating the divided opinions on the issue.

And now, a major retailer has reignited the debate, after revealing its plans to ditch self-checkout machines in 12,000 of its stores…

Self-Checkout
Self-service checkouts have become a common sight in grocery stores, retail giants, and fast-food chains, promising speed and convenience for customers. Credit: Alamy

This isn’t the first major retailer to backpedal on self-checkouts.

California may soon see a significant shift in retail operations as lawmakers consider a new bill that could force stores to remove self-checkout counters, per Mail Online.

The proposed legislation aims to prohibit grocery and drug stores from using self-checkouts unless they meet strict criteria.

This proposal, supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, comes amidst a growing backlash against self-checkouts.

If the bill is passed, stores would need to ensure self-checkouts are used only by customers purchasing ten items or less, with at least one staffed checkout available as an alternative.

Shoplifters often exploit these machines by not scanning items or by scanning cheaper items instead.

Consequently, major retailers like Walmart and Target have started to reverse their use of self-checkouts.

The bill, introduced by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a Democrat from Los Angeles, will be reviewed by California’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

Smallwood-Cuevas emphasises the need to balance technological adaptation with job protection and worker safety.

“While it’s crucial to adapt these new technologies, we must protect jobs and ensure worker safety,” she tells the Sacramento Bee.

The rollback of self-checkouts is primarily driven by concerns over theft, as noted by Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData to Dailymail.com.

“Theft rates at self-checkouts are reasonably high both because of deliberate actions and accidental mistakes. Forcing more customers to use manned checkouts resolves a lot of these issues and saves retailers money,” Saunders explains.

“They are trying to see how does this play a role in the future, but it’s not going to be the same thing they’ve done for decades, where it’s a free-for-all, and anyone could use it,” he tells CBS MoneyWatch. There is a lot more caution.”

Scott Savage, a franchise owner of Giant Tiger in Ontario, removed all self-checkout lanes due to customer dissatisfaction.

“The biggest complaint you have from everybody is, ‘You don’t pay me to work here,'” Savage said.

And now, another major retailer has made a decisive stance against the future of self-checkouts…
Dollar General
Dollar General has ceased the use of self-checkouts in 12,000 of its stores, now retaining them in only a select few locations. Credit: @dollargeneral/Instagram

Dollar General has ceased the use of self-checkouts in 12,000 of its stores, now retaining them in only a select few locations.

This marks the most significant reversal by a major retailer on the contentious technology, as detailed in an internal staff manual obtained by DailyMail.com.

The discount retailer invested millions in installing self-checkouts but has since witnessed a surge in thefts.

Company executives cited shoplifting linked to the kiosks as a primary reason for the decline in profits earlier this year.

Instead of removing self-checkouts entirely, Dollar General will now cordon them off, directing customers to traditional cashier lanes.

However, if lines become too long, employees will temporarily open the self-checkout stations and operate them as regular registers for customers.

According to the staff manual, customers are not permitted to use these kiosks independently.

Dollar General began aggressively rolling out self-checkout kiosks in 2022, and by early the following year, they were present in over two-thirds of its 20,000 stores.

The rapid U-turn, driven by the need to reduce ‘shrink’ has led to the removal of self-checkouts from the majority of its locations.

Now, only a few hundred stores, mostly high-volume and low-shrink locations, retain the kiosks.

CEO Todd Vasos explains that the decision was primarily influenced by rising theft, but he also noted that customers appreciated the increased interaction with staff.

Vasos updated investors and analysts on May 30, after the retailer released its earnings for the three months to May 3.

Sales rose 6 per cent to $9.9 billion, but profit fell 26 per cent.

Many are celebrating the move to step away from self-service checkouts.

One social media user writes: “Life is too automated as it is. I was against these tills in the beginning. Glad to see them being taken out, it creates more jobs.”

Another echoes: “My wife and myself refuse to use self-service checkouts. We prefer to see jobs for local people.”

Although not everyone is happy to see the self-service registers go.

“I don’t want to go back to using manned tills,” one person writes. “I hate people I just want to scan in peace.”

While another diplomatically suggests: ” I like the choice! If I only Have a few things it’s great to have self service.”

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Written by Annie Walton Doyle

Annie Walton Doyle is a content editor at IGV who specialises in trending, lifestyle and entertainment news. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a degree in English Literature. Annie has previously worked with organisations such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Harvard University, the Pulitzer Prize and 22 Words.