Whether you love them or hate them, self-serve checkouts are here to stay in Australian supermarkets despite overseas stores going back to old-fashioned customer service.
British supermarket chain Booths is the latest company to remove self-serve checkouts in response to customer feedback labelling the technology slow, unreliable and impersonal.
Costco in the US has scrapped nearly all of its self-serve machines and put staff back behind counters, while Walmart is also moving away from the controversial technology.
As self-serve checkouts spark customer outrage, Daily Mail Australia approached four major supermarket chains along with Costco Australia to ask whether they had any plans to ditch self-serve checkouts. Their detailed answers are below.
Some were reluctant to respond to specific questions, including whether more checkouts would be staffed during the Christmas period.
IGA appears to be one chain bucking the self-serve trend with its priority still on personalised service.
Major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths have no plans to scrap self-serve options and revert back to staffed checkouts
Canstar Blue editor-in-chief Christine Seib predicted there would be many ‘upset’ shoppers if self-serve checkouts were scrapped from supermarkets
A recent Canstar Blue survey found the high percentage of Australians who prefer to do their grocery shop in-store are divided on self-serve registers.
While 41 per cent of shoppers prefer to be served at the check-out, another 34 per cent find it quicker and more convenient to do themselves.
Professor Gary Mortimer, a retail expert from Queensland University of Technology Business School, told Daily Mail Australia self-serve checkouts were now a part of the wider economy, not just supermarkets.
‘Department stores and fast food outlets now have them. Even when you check in at the airport or many hotels, there are self-serve kiosks,’ he said.
Professor Mortimer said he did not see Australian supermarkets following the lead of overseas chains, pointing out that Booths consists of just 27 stores.
But he acknowledged that retailers need a combination of self-serve and staffed checkouts.
‘There will always be consumers who want a personalised experience and prefer the social interaction while others just want to get in and out,’ he said.
Canstar Blue’s survey of almost 2,880 Aussie supermarket customers found 87 per cent prefer to shop in-store.
Of the 34 per cent who preferred self-service checkouts, three quarters said it was faster while one in five did not like the human interaction of a staffed register.
Canstar Blue editor-in-chief Christine Seib told Daily Mail Australia it appeared many shoppers were equally happy with self-serve or staffed registers.
‘It appears that while some shoppers have preference for one or the other, many are equally happy with either option,’ Canstar Blue editor-in-chief Christine Seib told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Australian supermarket shoppers tend to focus on price and convenience, with customer service not as high a priority when it comes to choosing which supermarket to visit.
‘Shoppers could expect supermarkets to adopt the right combination of those factors for their local market, such as keeping staffed checkouts where they’re strongly valued and offering mostly self-serve checkouts in busy shops where customers want to dash in and out with just a few purchases.’
Ms Seib agreed with Professor Mortimer that retailers need a mix of register options to meet customer demand.
‘While shoppers have some understandable objections to self-serve checkouts – ranging from the impact on jobs to the principle of paying higher grocery prices while also taking on the task of checking-out their shopping – the fact that a third of shoppers would rather use a self-serve checkout means rolling back their use would likely upset a big group of shoppers,’ she said.
Below are the supermarkets’ stance on self-serve checkouts.
It’s not yet known whether Costco Australia (store pictured) will follow its US counterparts
QUT Business School retail expert Professor Gary Mortimer (pictured) says self-serve checkouts aren’t going anywhere
The independent chain, which consists of 1,300 outlets nationwide, is bucking the trend toward self-serve checkouts.
‘Although some of our IGA stores have a self-serve option, the priority is, and always has been, people first in our stores,’ a spokesperson said.
‘We appreciate that self-service provides convenience, especially when customers are in a hurry or only have a few items. But when it comes to human connection, nothing can replace the experience of a face-to-face interaction at our checkouts.’
Some IGA stores have opted with solely staffed checkouts, others offer both staffed and self-serve checkouts in accordance to customers’ needs.
‘We hear hundreds of stories a week across our network about the unique interactions between various communities and store team members, so we know that a friendly “how is your day going?” can make someone’s day,’ the spokesperson added.
‘We also know that whether it’s a parent trying to juggle their children and their groceries, or an elderly customer who needs a helping hand with their items, the support of our team at the checkouts is a huge help to our community.’
While IGA has a self-serve option in some stores, its priority is ‘people first’
A Woolworths spokesperson said: ‘We know some customers prefer to be served by a team member and that’s why there is always that option in all of our stores.
‘Millions of transactions are made using our self service checkouts every single day.
‘The use of self service technology is commonplace from airports to railway stations, and customer feedback shows our self-serve checkouts are popular for their convenience and speed.
‘Our supermarkets employ more team members than ever before as we expand to cater to a range of different shopping needs – from rapid grocery delivery, to the traditional in-store experience, as well as other convenient options like Direct to Boot.
‘We know there’s many different opinions on the use of this technology and that’s why we have a range of ways for customers to complete their shop.’
Millions of shoppers use the self service checkouts every day, according to Woolworths
Coles says it remains focused on offering a range of register options for customers.
‘Self-service checkouts are a great option for customers because they offer convenience and efficiency when shopping in our stores to help customers check out more quickly and pack their bags the way they like,’ a spokesman said.
‘Because of this they are the checkout of choice for more than 2 in 3 customers, and we continue to see these numbers increase.
‘Over the past year, we have seen greater customer satisfaction and uptake in our self-service options. Of course, if customers prefer to be served by a team member, someone will always be available in the service area to serve them.
‘We have never been more committed to supporting Australians with employment opportunities, having recruited an additional 22,000 team members compared to five years ago.’
Coles says more than two thirds of its customers prefer the convenience of self-serve checkouts (pictured)
Aldi recently announced its rollout of self-serve checkouts will by ramped up, two years after the first one was installed in inner-Sydney Darlinghurst as part of a trial.
By the end of the 2023, about 200 of its 580 stores will have self-checkouts.
Aldi sees the technology as a win-win as it is not only efficient for customers but also frees up staff to focus on customer service, stock replenishment and store presentation.
Instead of answering questions, Aldi referred Daily Mail Australia to a fact sheet on its website with comments from national store operations director Hayden Pierce.
‘Aldi stores will continue to operate with both self-checkouts and staffed checkouts, so customers will still be able to choose the option they prefer,’ he says on the website.
‘Customers can ask an Aldi employee to open a staffed checkout if there is not one already available.’
Around 200 of Aldi’s 580 stores across Australia will have self-serve checkkouts by December
Costco has 15 stores across Australia.
‘One of our priorities at Costco is our members’ shopping experience,’ managing Directorr Patrick Noone said.
‘Our members have responded positively to self-serve checkouts, which are a great way of enhancing convenience in the warehouses.
‘We have them in five of our Australian warehouses, Canberra, North Lakes, Adelaide, Marsden Park and Lake Macquarie, with plans to expand to more warehouses in the future.
‘Despite this, we believe our staffed checkouts are integral to providing members with a personalised service, so they will remain a large part of the Costco shopping experience.’
Self-serve checkouts are here to says, unlike those in Costco outlets in the US (pictured)