The past few years have seen self-service checkouts become a visible feature of the Australian retail landscape, with major supermarkets (Woolworths and Coles) and chain stores (Big W, Kmart and IKEA) all enthusiastically embracing self-scanning. However, supermarkets at least are now cutting back on the use of self-service in urban areas.
Picture by Jaap Stronks
The Australian Financial Review reported this week that both Woolworths and Coles are cutting back on self-service checkouts in some inner-city supermarkets, finding that it's still faster and cheaper to employ register operators. Often this takes the form of a single queue system served by multiple registers.
"Without a doubt people love them because they love the feeling of being in control," a Woolworths spokesperson told the paper. "But they don't work in every environment." That said, the rollouts continue. Woolworths has 2000 self-service checkouts in 400 stores (about half its network); Coles has 3000 in 350 stores.
I'm a big fan of self-service checkouts, and I'll inevitably choose them if they're an available option. But I also shop without a car, which means I'm rarely making a big purchase. If I had an entire trolley full, I'd save myself and others the trouble and head to a checkout line.
Self-service has other benefits too: it can be a handy way of getting rid of excess coins, and there are plenty of strategies you can employ to use them more efficiently. But I know many people who go out of their way to avoid them, either because they mistrust the technology, because they figure it improves employment or because they just find a checkout operator faster. What's your reaction?