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Growing Backlash Over Self-Checkout
Major chains are scaling back their self-checkout systems. This is primarily due to theft (“inventory shrinkage”) and negative customer feedback.
The first self-checkout machine was introduced in 1986 at a Kroger in Atlanta, Georgia. Since then, self-checkout experienced a very gradual adoption among retail stores—gradual, that is, until the pandemic-induced labor shortages and self-checkout seemed to appear everywhere. But this fall, that may be changing: Peak self-checkout may well be behind us.
Several chains are backing away from self-checkout machines. In the UK, the grocery chain Booths just announced it will remove self-checkout from all but two of its stores. Walmart (WMT) removed stations at several of its New Mexico locations. ShopRite has reverted to full-service checkout in its Delaware stores. Wegmans has canceled its app that allows customers to scan and pay for items through their phones. And Costco (COST) is adding more cashiers to oversee self-checkout areas.
So what’s behind this backlash? There are two primary drivers.
Lost Inventory: Many chains report self-checkout leads to increased “shrink,” an industry term for lost product. This is partially due to shoplifting. But user and machine errors are also to blame: Barcodes don’t always scan, and customers will accidentally hit the wrong button.
Customer Complaints: Shoppers often complain about the finicky machines. The scanners will sometimes read barcodes twice. Kiosks lock up if you don’t place your item in the right spot. And shoppers need to flag down cashiers to approve alcohol purchases.
Of course, self-checkout won’t completely vanish. It’s still convenient when you need to make a small purchase. But you may notice fewer machines and tighter security.
Did You Know?
America’s Empty Bookcases. A recent YouGov survey asked Americans how many books they own. Apparently, people’s bookshelves are rather empty. Almost a third of Americans (29%) own ten or fewer physical books. And 56% own no more than fifty. Also, young adults own significantly fewer books than older adults. While only 17% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they own more than fifty books, 54% of those ages 65+ say the same. (The poll anticipates your question about digital publications: Two-thirds of young adults own ten or fewer e-books.) So what explains this book dearth among young adults? Millennials and Homelanders spend much of their free time consuming quickly digestible media. As a result, most (though certainly not all) have never developed the habit of mastering long and complex written texts. When you spend your days watching 10-second TikToks, reading The Old Man and the Sea, to say nothing of reading War and Peace, seems like climbing Mount Everest.
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