Like it or not, Wal-Mart increasing self-checkout lanes

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 10,569 views 

Wal-Mart Stores is testing the use of more self-checkouts and fewer manned lines. For example, the newest Walmart Supercenter at Elm Springs Road in Springdale was recently revamped leaving just seven lanes open for manned checkout.

Self-checkout lanes equipped with conveyor belts were installed and there are several shorter lines with no belt for self checkout and a large corral at each end of the store for self-checkout with a bag carrousel and no conveyor belt. There are three times the number of self-checkout lanes as manned options in the Elm Springs store.

The majority of the lines are also equipped for Scan & Go which is being piloted in select stores in the region. A cashier at the store told Talk Business & Politics the new front-end is designed to give customers with a full basket an easier time scanning their own items, which has been a complaint with the small self-service areas used in the past.

A mile down the road, the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Don Tyson Parkway has removed all but one of its manned checkouts, and the rest of the lines are self service. There is a corral at the end with a hostess to help shoppers troubleshoot.

Retailers have plenty of reasons to move toward self-checkout because it does help them save on labor expenses and redirect those funds to other areas, said Carl von Sydow, director of self-service sales at Diebold Nixdorf, who recently blogged on this topic.

Grocery shoppers overall agree using self-service is often faster than going through a cashier-assisted line. Industry stats indicate more than 80% of U.S. shoppers have used self-checkout as of last year. About half of those users said they would like to see self-checkout available at mass retailers. Basket size is the main factor shoppers said they consider when choosing cashier-assisted lanes over self-check options.

Consumers reacted on social media to a recent post of the front-end changes taking place in the Walmart Supercenter in Springdale which indicates consumers like options, which is a problem for stores that have reduced or eliminated cashier-assisted checkout. Similar changes are being made at the Joyce Street Walmart Supercenter in Fayetteville to reduce manned checkouts and add more self-check options. The Walmart Supercenter at Pleasant Grove Road in Rogers also has more self-service registers than manned aisles.

Cory Nelson, a local Walmart shopper, dislikes the self-checkout while purchasing alcohol or other items that require a cashier override because he often has to wait for the cashier to come and approve the purchase, taking more time than necessary. Gwen Mueller said any retailer that moves to self-checkout has lost her. She stopped using self-check when eight out of a dozen items rang up higher than the correct sale price. Mueller said she stopped shopping there because of the self-service mishap.

“No thanks, I’ll shop Amazon,” she posted on social media.

Steve Merrill also said he’s not a fan of self-checkout, especially for produce, but he understands for everyday low prices they are trade offs. He is a fan of the new mobile express Scan and Go which he said helps save time.

“With European brands like Lidl and Aldi entering the U.S., the low cost end of retail will get more competitive,” he noted.

Stuart Brown, a shopper in Oklahoma, said it’s a bad business decision by Wal-Mart based on what he’s seen in the stores in Durant and Poteau. Lines from the few manned checkouts often back up into the apparel department, which forces people with a $300 basket into the self-checkout lines, Brown said.

Retailers have to beef up security at self-checkouts to guard more against theft, which is higher on average at self-checkout registers, according to industry stats.

There were other shoppers who like the option of self-checkout, like Andrew Stock, who said, “this is the future … would love to see a drive through window for select items at Walmart.” Lawrence Wilson said self checkout has been the norm in supermarkets across New York City for decades. He said some stores have double-ended belts so the person in line can start scanning while the previous customer is bagging.

Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment on checkout changes.

Talk Business & Politics in a June 2016 interview asked Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran if checkout changes are reducing the number of store employees. He said more self-checkout lanes doesn’t mean fewer employees in the store. Given the expansion of online grocery pickup, there has been the addition of personal shoppers inside the store, a job that didn’t exist three years ago. Foran said each store schedules labor based on demand and that includes the front-end of the store.

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