Article | September 25, 2012

Self-Checkout Registers – Needed Or Nuisance?

Paul Potter, MBA

By Paul Potter, MBA, Full Time Faculty Member, Retail Management at American Public University

I was recently listening to a colleague in retail management discuss self-checkouts and the value they add. I have always liked the idea of self-checkout registers.  I like the concept and the ability to checkout quickly. It is all about the efficiency for me. Also, multiple registers can be monitored by one person, allowing more registers to be open for shoppers. When I am in a hurry and only have a few items, it’s a great convenience.

In an effort to not be too biased for my enjoyment of self-checkout registers, I thought I would get some other insight from the primary shopper in my household, my wife. Surprisingly, she is not a fan of the self-checkout. The primary objection given was related to the size of the basket. There are just too many items being purchased to efficiently do it herself, especially if any of the children are with her. I can understand and respect that. Additionally, weighted items are more difficult to lookup if there is not a price look-up code on the product. However, she did state when there are only a few items, they are okay. I asked my assistant the same question, she dislikes them too. She prefers the human factor. One other worker in my office stated he was against them as well. He feels like using a self-checkout is putting someone out of a job. Being that multiple registers can be monitored by just one person, eliminating the need for multiple workers. But, I see the use of self-checkout systems as an opportunity to utilize an employee for other business needs such as customer service, zoning, or stocking.

I thought I would take a look at what some in the industry have to say about self-checkouts. In 2011, grocery chain Albertsons announced they would remove all self-checkout registers from their stores. In an industry publication the same year, Kroger announced they were experimenting with removing self-checkout and Publix stated they were “on the fence”. Target has stated they will never place self-checkouts in their stores as the human connection is part of their experience. Regardless, NCR (the supplier of self-checkout to more than 150 retailers) expects the business to increase by 15% annually.

Of course with the advancements in technology, any checkout register may become obsolete. I read an article recently about mobile payment apps being created by Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. Consumer usage of smartphones is constantly rising, bypassing the need for a register at all. This could decrease the need for traditional checkout registers and having self-checkouts would be a benefit.

Essentially, I think self-checkouts will remain in their current locations and potentially be added to retailers who do not currently have them. They will be used in conjunction with mobile app payments as a method of verifying purchases before exiting the store.

Personally, I am a fan of self-checkouts and vote – needed!

About American Public University System
American Public University System, winner of the Sloan Consortium’s 2009 Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education and two-time recipient of Sloan’s Effective Practices Award, offers 87 online degree programs through American Public University and American Military University. APUS’s relevant curriculum, affordability and flexibility help more than 100,000 working adults worldwide pursue degrees in subjects ranging from homeland security to management and liberal arts. For further information, visit