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No cashiers: Kroger ends test concept that was entirely self-checkout

Retailers love selling something that’s more work for customers as being about choice or control.

Panera Bread, for example, won’t even pour your coffee. The chain hands customers a cup and forces them to assemble their drinks themselves. That does give them full control of their beverage, but Starbucks does the same thing by allowing complete customization in its app.

Related: Walmart makes a major store change that will delight customers

It’s a very fine line between a restaurant offering something that’s a benefit, like a salsa bar at a Mexican eatery or the old Roy Rogers’ Fixins’ bar that let customers truly customize their burgers to a business passing off work from employees to customers. In many cases, self-checkout has been sold to consumers as being about convenience, but in reality, it’s about spending less money on labor.

Over the past few years, nearly all the major chains that sell groceries have installed self-checkout lanes. The results, however, have been very mixed as while labor costs come down, shoplifting — both intentional and accidental — goes up.

“39% of all thefts within grocery stores occur at self-checkout,” according to data from loss prevention platform Auror which based its information on 2.5 million transactions across 10,000 stores. The average self-checkout theft costs a store $120, or one 8-hour shift of a cashier making $15 an hour.

Kroger is one of the biggest grocery chains in the U.S.

Image source: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Kroger tried all self-checkout stores

Kroger has tried all self-checkout stores in very select locations including a store in Tennessee that was retrofitted to remove the traditional checkout lanes. That store was picked because a high number of that location’s customers were already using self-checkout, a Kroger spokesperson told WKRN.

“These allow our customers to scan and bag their own items,” said Kroger Corporate Affairs Manager Lauren Bell, told the station, adding that it makes the experience faster.

The chain, however, made it clear that not every checkout clerk was replaced by self-checkout. Bell shared that there were still employees who could help with checkout for those who don’t want to or can’t use self-checkout.

“We still have staff at the front end ready and willing to step in to assist those customers,” said Bell.

Kroger had tested the self-checkout-only concept in a Dallas store beginning in early 2021. That store was also retrofitted to eliminate traditional cashier-based checkout lanes and some other changes were made.

The retailer added “wide-belted self-checkouts [that] can accommodate large-volume purchases” and “will still have cashiers and courtesy clerks to help customers” who need assistance,” NFCW.com reported.

Kroger gives up on its original self-checkout experiment

Kroger recently quietly ended the self-checkout-only experiment in Dallas. The company has brought back some tradtiional checkout lanes at the store.

“We listened closely to customer feedback and made the decision to convert back to hosting staffed checkout lanes at this store,” Kroger spokesman John Votava told The Dallas Morning News.

That move comes after key rivals including Target, Walmart, and Dollar General have made self-checkout locations in some stores. Target has imposed item limits at self-checkout in some stores while Walmart has removed self-checkout in select stores.

Walmart has also given employees at some stores the ability to shut off self-checkout so security personnel can check whether a company has not scanned certain items. That’s a controversial move because it’s being presented to customers as a technology breakdown rather than a stall tactic designed to allow for a bad check.

Dollar General has also decided to cut down its reliance on self-checkout. The company’s CEO Todd Vasos talked about the change during his company’s third-quarter earnings call.

“We plan to increase the employee presence at the front end of our stores and in particular, the checkout area. While self-checkout has contributed to the convenient proposition for our customers in certain stores, it does not reduce the importance of a friendly, helpful employee who is there to greet customers and assist while the checkout process is happening.,” he said.

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