Supermarkets consider replacing self-checkout lanes

The Associated Press//July 8, 2011

Supermarkets consider replacing self-checkout lanes

The Associated Press//July 8, 2011

(Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 12 to clarify that the move won’t affect stores in Idaho and several other states)

Ten years after self-checkout lanes debuted in many American supermarkets, some chains are beginning to rethink the option.

Beginning this month, Albertsons LLC is removing the self-checkout lanes in all of its 217 stores in seven states, including Texas. The move won’t affect Albertsons/SuperValu stores, which are located in the intermountain West and include stores in Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Utah, northern Nevada, and southern California.

As it remodels stores, Kroger has decided to consider the metro or Euro style of checkout lanes, with one customer line for multiple staffed express lanes vs. self checkouts.

For Albertsons, self-checkout no longer fits with the customer-service experience it wants, spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said.

“Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave,” Wilcox said.

When Albertsons installed self-checkout lanes nearly a decade ago, “it was in response to a growing trend in retail for stores to be even more self-service” than ever before, she said. Albertsons is replacing the self-checkout lanes with regular lanes and opening more staffed lanes during peak shopping hours.

Last month, Kroger removed the self-checkout lanes in its high-traffic store in Houston on Montrose Boulevard in response to shoppers who want to move through quickly with a few items, Kroger spokesman Gary Huddleston said.

“This isn’t a test,” Huddleston said. “We are looking at each and every store as we remodel to determine which checkout works best.”

A recently remodeled Kroger store in Dallas has both the metro lanes and self-checkout lanes. A new store under construction also will have both quicker options, he said.

Whole Foods Market and H-E-B’s Central Market both use the metro lane express checkouts instead of self-checkout. The stacked checkouts with one line move faster, and shoppers don’t get stuck in slow lanes or behind customers having trouble with self-checkout.

Metro lanes check out customers three times faster than traditional express lanes, Huddleston said. The average wait time for customers who use metro lanes is 5 to 20 seconds, he said.

The Dallas area is in a state of hyper-competition in the grocery business as existing chains expand and new ones move in. That’s inspiring grocery chains to rethink everything they do, said Bob Young, managing director of the Weitzman Group, which manages many grocery-anchored centers.

“Customer service and the personal touch is a prevailing theme today,” Young said

Technology also is moving checkouts in new directions.

Kroger is experimenting in Cincinnati with an automated tunnel scanning technology in which shoppers put their items on a conveyor belt and the items are scanned while moving through a tunnel.

And Home Depot recently put 30,000 First Phones in its stores that allow employees to walk around and check out customers anywhere in the store.

While they’re not viewed as a replacement for self-checkout, the First Phones, which Home Depot spent $64 million to develop and buy, are another speedy option for customers, said Craig Fishel, Home Depot spokesman.