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Opinion: retailers must address self-service checkouts or risk losing customers says Alan McPherson

‘Unexpected item in bagging area!’  We all know how frustrating it is to hear those automated words when we’re in a hurry.  You use self-service to speed up the buying process but end up waiting in vain for an assistant to come and swipe you to freedom.

Visit any major high street store and the emphasis is very much moving towards self-service, but retailers need to ask themselves if they are getting it right.

A recent survey carried out by Tensator revealed that one in three shoppers (out of nearly 400 polled) have walked out of a store without buying the goods they intended to because of a bad experience with a self-service till.  With a staggering 84% of those questioned admitting to needing staff assistance when using a self-service checkout, it is hardly surprising that nearly 60% of customers actually prefer using more traditional staffed tills.

Other statistics revealed by the survey include:

Clearly, with so many shoppers preferring to be served by a member of staff, managers need to look at the queuing systems they have in place at their staffed checkouts to make sure they’re performing to the best of their ability.

However, although retailers tend to spend a lot of money on queuing systems for staffed checkouts, with elements such as electronic call forward systems and in-queue merchandising, queues for self-service areas are quite basic.

The study also revealed what customers think about when waiting in line, with 32% admitting that they spend the time making assumptions about the person in front of them in the queue. Perhaps more interesting to retailers is the fact that 26% say they use the time to think about how their overall shopping experience can be improved.

No retailer wants to lose customers, but it seems that many are doing so. If such a high number of shoppers need help when using self-service tills, retailers need to look at the technology they use and the way it iis being presented to the consumer. If so many people need help, it negates the self-service aspect.


Alan McPherson is CEO of Tensator, a recognised leader in the management of the customer journey.