business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a new study by IHL Consulting says that while consumers scanned $70 billion worth of self-serve transactions in 2003, that amount will nearly quintuple to $330 billion by 2007.

Today, according to the paper, self-scanning has become an almost expected part of the shopping experience. Home Depot estimates that 39 percent of all its transactions go through self-scan checkouts. Kroger in Atlanta says that 40 percent of its transactions there are going through self-checkout.

In the near future, consumers will find self-scanning options at myriad places – hotels (Hyatt will follow Hilton into this arena), convenience stores, fast food outlets, even the post office.
KC's View:
Here’s the line from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that bothers us:

    “Where modern consumerism is concerned, human interaction is becoming passé…the store of the future might allow customers to collect what they need, walk to their cars and check out automatically — all without taking out their wallets or talking to a soul.”

We’ve always worried about this. Especially in a time when stores are looking for any and all differential advantages to help them compete effectively, we have long been concerned that abandoning all human interaction actually plays against this. Stores ought to be trying to hire better people and more of them…establishing human connections whenever and wherever possible.

That said, we have to admit that we use self-checkout at every opportunity. At Home Depot (where most of the people are useless anyway). At the airport (where kiosks can be lifesavers when you’re running late these days). Recently at a hotel (where we used one the other day to circumvent a long line at reception). And at supermarkets in our area that offer the option (though the stores we use the most – Stew Leonard’s, Trader Joe’s, and Costco – don’t have it).

So we’re coming around on this one…though we continue to believe that while it makes sense for retailers to speed things up when they can, most stores should be putting a greater emphasis on their people. Maybe they shouldn’t be at checkout. Maybe they should be in aisles, telling people about the products on the shelves. Maybe they could be at an Apple Store-style Genius Bar, offering advice and counsel.

But we remain convinced that the depersonalization of the retailing experience is a negative trend that, maybe, has very little to do with self-scanning.