Checking Out Self Checkout

Forewarned is forearmed, and the news that self checkout is gathering momentum among customers has retailers rolling out self-service solutions or, at the very least, arming themselves with information about the latest and greatest in self-checkout technology. Senior editor Katherine Field talked with Paul Burel, director of self-checkout strategic marketing for Fujitsu Transaction Solutions—the division that facilitates such solutions at retail. According to Burel, self checkout may ultimately dominate retail.

Chain Store Age: Several recent studies have shown that speeding up checkout lanes is a hot topic among retailers. Have you found that to be the case?

Paul Burel: Absolutely. And coming from retail I can tell you that whether or not a customer will recommend one retail operation over another is heavily dependent on the wait times at checkout. That’s why it’s such a hot button right now.

CSA: Is self checkout really a sure way to speed up checkout lanes? And what are the advantages, and potential disadvantages, of the technology?

Burel: Self checkout will absolutely speed up checkout—as long as it is implemented correctly. The big benefit to self checkout is reducing queues and wait times. What we’ve learned, by understanding that generational shifts, gender, etc., influence customer behavior, is that younger customers are using self checkout at a faster and faster rate. Not that they use it more, but that the rate has actually increased over the last four or five years. I think what’s happening is that self checkout is so pervasive and it’s permeating so much of retail that people are growing accustomed to it. Statistically, not only are younger shoppers increasingly using the technology, but also across retail more men than women are opting for self checkout. And that’s true across the continents as well. We have found the data coming out of Europe right now is very similar to North America.

Surprisingly, while some might think that a potential disadvantage to self checkout is the perceived lack of customer service, that isn’t the case. If the retailer has selected the right cashiers—who are capable, outgoing and friendly—they will spend the time to take customers by the hand and walk them through the process. Self checkout, if implemented properly, can actually provide the retailer with a chance to provide great service.

CSA: How can POS best be integrated with self checkout?

Burel: We knew it was essential that our technology—the U-Scan system—would plug into not only our old, and new, software, but also into most solutions retailers are using today. The Fujitsu architecture is a virtual POS solution, which means that recodes and significant changes to existing POS systems aren’t necessary. The virtual POS is a communication piece, which handshakes between the two systems.

To put this technology into perspective, retail CIOs are usually pushing to do at least three major POS releases a year on average. And within those major POS releases, big things happen, like coupon automation and loyalty programs. Once you put in self checkout, you’ve got additional cycles to go through. With some solutions, three major POS releases a year simply aren’t possible. What CIOs must realize is that if they are going to buy a solution based on first cost alone, then the tough questions need to be asked, such as: What is this going to mean to my POS releases?

CSA: What do you see as the future of self checkout? Will it dominate in some retail categories, yet never see the light of day in others?

Burel: Ithink that a lot of the retailers today that stake their success on good customer service will find that the technology adds to their customer service, rather than detracts from it.

Expect to see adoption from drug stores, such as CVS and Walgreens, and c-stores such as 7-Eleven. Tesco has proved in the U.K. that the technology works, and it works extremely well. Expect to see the same in its U.S. rollout. Among department stores, those with front-end checkout see the benefit of modified self-checkout technologies that cut queues while still allowing a certain amount of human interaction.