Why Self Checkout Technology Depends on Great UX

Paul Hoffman
Reading time: minutes

As shoppers interact more directly with technology in retail settings, give them more reason to love your brand

We’ve all had the experience. You boldly approach the self checkout line and engage the machine. Scan… please place the item in the bagging area. Phew. Scan… please place the item in the bagging area. Ok, I got this. Scan… unexpected item in bagging area! Noooooooo. Your blood pressure surges in sync with the flashing light pulsing above your head. You wait for assistance, which defeats the purpose of self checkout.

Like it or not, self checkout technologies are here to stay - and the pandemic has accelerated this reality. Case in point: DSW, Designer Brands’ shoe warehouse with over 500 stores in the US, recently announced that due to a lack of available workers, it plans to use self checkout technology to fill the gap. Family issues like child care, and health and safety concerns, along with expanded unemployment benefits are playing a role in the ongoing employee gap. This is a reality for many employers currently. The issues around self checkout stores (used in this blog to mean stores using full or partial self checkout technology) are not cut and dry, as many people have a love-hate relationship with the would-be straight line to the exit.

Self checkout stores should empower the customer, not frustrate

In its report from February 2021, Raydiant notes that 67% of consumers have had a self-checkout fail. Still, this same report shows that 85% believe that self checkout options are faster, and 60% of consumers prefer a self checkout over checkouts with store associates. For sure, there are pros and cons to both: staffed points of purchase have the potential to provide a richer customer experience through friendly and knowledgeable interaction, yet technology glitches can happen with or without a live attendant, and attended lines tend to have more wait time.

I recently had a checkout issue with a large US pharmacy chain I regularly use. I didn’t enter my rewards number when prompted to do so. As I moved through checkout, a relentless, monotone voice requested I enter my number. The problem was that there was no obvious way to do it. When I held my card under the scanner, nothing happened, and there was no clear prompt to enter my number manually. The droning voice quickly morphed into a punishment of sorts. I left the store without getting my reward credit from the purchase, feeling annoyed and like a social outcast for conjuring “the voice” for those within hearing distance around me.

What is the key self checkout technology today and its considerations?

There are many reasons why a retailer may opt to use self checkout, either exclusively or in the mix of its overall PoS strategy. Stores can choose from self checkout counters; mobile checkout and smart carts; self checkout kiosk systems; self checkout RFID scanners; self checkout sensors and AI; mobile scan and go checkout apps. Each has unique advantages. Retailers should consider each potential solution across several criteria.

For example, here are a few considerations for self checkout counters:

  • Efficiency - Retailers can speed the checkout process and reduce labor costs, but self checkout means a more labor-intensive experience for your shoppers as they scan and possibly lookup or weigh items and place them in the bagging area. There’s also a higher percentage of shoplifting loss - 30% higher in some cases.

  • Customer experience - 74% of customers say that difficulty entering goods was their biggest concern with the technology; 59% said that they’d be more likely to use self checkout if the technology was improved. Still, there are upsides for customers: control of transaction speed, not having to engage with a person and interaction with convenient technology.

  • Space - All retailers know that space is at a premium. Self checkout technology can help save space. It’s faster, so space frees up for use more quickly, and there is typically one line that feeds into all the self checkout lanes, which also conserves space and can increase a sense of orderliness in store.

What does self service checkout mean for retailers and their software vendor partners?

With the global pandemic, retail has undergone — and continues to undergo — significant changes. Businesses are dealing with losses resulting from the pandemic including supply chain disruptions, an upsurge in online players, a reduced employee pool and other factors. As a result, they are forced to make headcount considerations and/or change ways of doing business to attract and retain more customers.

Self service checkout technology certainly has a significant place in the strategy and execution of global retail. As studies have shown, consumers leery of these technologies now would be willing to use them in the future, should glitches be worked out. At a time when retail patterns have been disrupted and the fight for customer loyalty is more fierce than ever, retailers and their technology partners should consider this fact as they evaluate and deploy self checkout technology.

Here are four key criteria for retailers and software vendors to consider for self checkout technology:

  • User experience - Does the self checkout technology leverage user-centric data? Even if it works, is it intuitive and easy to use? Is the technology predicated on deep human insights? Usability testing - with real people, in markets around the world - can yield insights that will help you create a great UX based on real-world testing.

  • Localization - Language, culture and currency necessitate a heightened and very specific set of testers and testing criteria for self checkout technology. Whether you're translating a product or application, looking for validation of existing apps or expanding into a new market, it’s critical to have a highly skilled localization team on your side.

  • Accessibility testing - To build and maintain digital accessibility, retail software developers must embed testing and best practices into your development process. Ensuring you are digitally accessible reduces risk and expands your customer base.

  • Payment testing - The only way to know if your self checkout works is to test with real people and real payment instruments. This form of testing provides ongoing transaction validation and enables growth into new markets.


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