Are You Being Served? (And Do You Really Want to Be?) ***
Self-checkout options first appeared in grocery stores more than a decade ago, offering shoppers a “quick”
and “easy” alternative to lining up. Now, self-serve alternatives appear everywhere, from fast food restaurants
to movie theatres. But do they truly offer consumers ease, speed, and convenience? Maybe not.
In a recent episode of the television show Marketplace, shoppers were provided with identical grocery
lists; some were asked to use the self-checkout, while others lined up for a cashier. Interestingly, the cashier
was faster, and made fewer mistakes. The show noted that mistakes are common among self-serve customers,
who often enter the incorrect code or push the wrong buttons. Employee input is required to fix the mistakes.
The technology does offer companies proven benefits. As Marketplace reported, an early experiment by
McDonald’s found that consumers spent an average of 30 percent more when using self-checkouts, possibly
because they might be too embarrassed to upsize their order in front of the cashier.
Of course, the self-serve option saves money that would otherwise be spent by businesses to staff checkout
lanes, supply desks, and kiosks. According to a report on self-service published by the Information Technology
and Innovation Foundation, the cost of an airline staff member check-in is $3. The cost of a passenger checking
in via a self-service kiosk is 14 cents.
For many consumers, it’s not about time savings or convenience; it’s about doing it yourself. These days,
many shoppers prefer to take control of the process and navigate the checkout or check-in process by