With the constant demand for greater efficiency and convenience in the retail experience, it’s not surprising that self-checkouts have entered the mainstream.
Once a relatively niche offering, the COVID-19 pandemic saw retailers accelerate the rollout of self-checkout systems, their contactless nature making them a lot more appealing than traditional checkouts for many consumers.
Self-checkouts also provide a range of other benefits, including reduced wait times, increased efficiency during peak hours, and more flexibility for customers to manage transactions. And in a survey from Bizrate Insights, 47% of respondents said they used self-service checkouts often, while 31% had used it before.
However, self-checkouts aren’t a panacea for a seamless customer experience in retail. How self-checkout is implemented—in addition to the type of self-checkout system you use—will determine how successfully self-checkout performs at your storefront.
In this blog, we will cover what your small business needs to consider when implementing self-checkout.
- Self-checkout systems are automated checkout solutions that allow customers to process purchases independently.
- Self-checkouts offer benefits such as reduced wait times, increased efficiency during peak hours, and flexibility for customers.
- Poor implementation of self-checkouts can add friction to the customer experience, so it’s important to design a tailored checkout strategy and smooth implementation.
Understanding Self-Checkout Systems
Self-checkout systems are automated hardware and software solutions that enable customers to process their purchases at retail stores, rather than needing the assistance of a cashier.
Self-checkouts are most common within retail stores that see a high volume of customers and multi-item purchases, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, and big-box stores like Walmart and Target.
The appeal of self-checkout stations is two-fold. It’s intended to offer customers a more convenient experience by reducing wait times. Self-checkout machines also reduce labor costs by cutting down on the number of personnel required in the checkout process.
Self-checkouts can take various forms within a storefront, including:
- Self-checkout kiosks. These large standalone terminals are typically located within a designated self-checkout area at the front of a store. They allow customers to scan, bag, and pay for their items all in one place.
- Handheld scanners. These mobile self-checkout terminals allow customers to scan items one by one as they navigate the store, then proceed to a cash register to finalize the payment.
- App-based scanning and payment. Some retailers have mobile apps that convert smartphones into scanners and payment portals. Customers can scan item barcodes using the camera and make a payment within the app.
- RFID readers. Some stores such as Amazon Go are experimenting with RFID tags so that customers don’t even have to scan items to pay for them. They simply fill their carts and pass through a gate that “reads” what is the cart before prompting them for payment.
9 Steps for Implementing Self-Checkout
|1. Assess Business Needs
|Understand your storefront and customer habits. Identify pain points, consider demographics, and balance labor costs with customer preferences.
|2. Select the Right Solution
|Consider cost, compatibility with existing systems, scalability, and user-friendliness of the self-checkout technology.
|3. Integrate with Existing Infrastructure
|Ensure chosen system integrates with POS, payment gateway, analytics tools, loyalty programs, and CRMs. Run test transactions for smooth implementation.
|4. Set Up Payments
|Offer multiple payment options including cash, cards, and contactless. Ensure data protection and security. Manage cash and card-based kiosks efficiently.
|5. Consider User Experience and Accessibility
|Design for ease of use, clear prompts, good screen layout, and different accessibility needs like height, auditory, and visual features, and multiple languages.
|6. Beef Up Security and Loss Prevention
|Implement anti-theft measures like checkout supervisors, video surveillance, and AI systems. Balance security with customer convenience.
|7. Test and Gather Feedback
|Pilot self-checkout in selected areas, gather customer feedback, and analyze checkout metrics to refine the system.
|8. Implement Rollout and Marketing Plan
|Use a phased implementation strategy. Raise awareness and educate customers about benefits like quicker transactions and loyalty points.
|9. Stay on Top of Maintenance and Upgrades
|Regularly maintain and upgrade the system, focusing on software/hardware updates, security audits, and new innovations for a better customer experience.
1. Assess Your Business Needs
Before you start investing in a self-checkout infrastructure, you need to understand what system is going to work best for your storefront and customer shopping habits.
Mapping your current pain points will help you to identify the self-checkout strategy that will most improve efficiency and reduce costs.
If long checkout lines and wait times are proving to be a problem at certain times of day, self-checkouts may provide a way to reduce congestion. If reducing labor costs is a key focus, then self-checkout could help alleviate your staffing issues. That said, you should also consider that team members are still required to monitor self-checkout areas to provide assistance or discourage shoplifting.
Looking at the demographics of your customer base will also help you understand how likely self-checkout is to be taken up. If you have an older customer base, you may find they prefer to use traditional checkout systems, making it important to offer a range of checkout options in your store. This means that only some of your floor needs to be converted into self-checkout lanes.
2. Select the Right Self-Checkout Solution
There’s a range of factors to consider when choosing self-checkout technology, particularly when you’re implementing a large-scale solution that means considerable changes to your storefront:
Cost. As stated above, self-checkout is not all about savings. It requires a pretty sizable investment in infrastructure before you can benefit from lower labor costs. The size of this investment will depend on whether you are developing scanning and checkout capabilities via a mobile app or purchasing multiple kiosks. Other costs to consider include staff training, maintenance, and customer education.
Compatibility. Self-service checkouts need to integrate seamlessly with your existing point-of-sale system, as well as your systems for inventory management and sales tracking.
Scalability. Your system needs to handle increasing transaction volumes as your business grows, in addition to busy sales events or periods like the holiday season. Make sure a self-checkout solution is robust enough to future-proof your business.
User-friendliness. Self-checkouts need to be easy and intuitive for customers and staff to navigate to ensure a seamless customer experience. Test out the interface to determine if it’s simple to use.
3. Integrate with Existing Infrastructure
When you select a self-checkout system, you don’t want to have to redesign your entire tech stack around it. Instead, your chosen self-checkout solution should integrate directly with the front-end and back-end of your POS system and payment gateway.
It’s also important that the self-checkout system integrates with your analytics and reporting tools, as transaction data will play a big role in assessing the success of your implementation. Other integrations to consider that are easy to overlook include loyalty programs and CRMs that add value to the customer experience.
This process will require you to work closely with your chosen provider to ensure that implementation goes smoothly. For best results, run some test transactions to get staff familiar with the new set-up and ensure that all of the moving parts i.e. scanner, POS, and payment processor are all working correctly.
4. Set Up Payments in Your Self-Checkout Systems
In the same way that regular checkouts need to offer a range of payment options, your self-checkout solution needs to offer customers flexibility and convenience. Today’s customers expect to choose from payment methods including cash, debit/credit cards, and contactless payments.
Just like traditional checkouts, self-checkout systems must adhere to data protection regulations concerning payment and customer data. Security features such as encryption and tokenization ensure that sensitive data remains hidden while transactions are processed.
Businesses have a few choices for how to offer these payment options via self-checkout. Given that the majority of customers prefer card-based transactions, you could decide to only enable one or two kiosks to accept cash payments. This allows supervisors to keep a closer eye on these stations and ensure that transactions can move through more swiftly on card-based kiosks.
5. Consider User Experience and Accessibility
Ease of use is one of the most important considerations when it comes to choosing and implementing a self-checkout. If congestion and long queues are currently a problem at your storefront, it’s only going to worsen if your self-checkout process is confusing or difficult to follow.
Your system should clarify what your customer needs to do as they progress through the checkout experience. This includes clear prompts for scanning the next item or putting items into the bagging area, as well as a good screen layout with large icons and text so customers can identify how to seek assistance or make a payment.
Moreover, checkouts need to be designed for different types of accessibility. For example, kiosks should be at different heights and configurations for individuals with varying mobility. Consider auditory and visual accessibility needs with features like voiceover or high color contrast screens. If your store is in a diverse community, offering multiple language options is also an important consideration.
6. Beef Up Security and Loss Prevention
One of the big drawbacks of self-checkouts is that users can manipulate systems to shoplift items or pay less for items than they are worth, resulting in inventory shrink. While customers may do this by mistake (i.e. selecting the wrong Apple variety) this vulnerability can easily be exploited on purpose.
There are a range of anti-theft measures that storefronts can implement to discourage these behaviors. This includes checkout supervisors and video surveillance, as well as AI systems designed to detect suspicious behavior such as “skip scanning.” Some businesses such as Target have also introduced restrictions on the number of items per transaction in a bid to combat fraud.
However, introducing these measures comes at the expense of customer convenience. Some shoppers will be uncomfortable with high levels of surveillance at self-checkout, or become frustrated if their checkout experience is constantly interrupted by notifications or manual approvals.
In fact, some retailers including Dollar General and British chain Booths have decided to pause or roll back the expansion of self-checkouts, citing customer complaints about slow and unwieldy checkout processes.
The bottom line? You need to balance security with customer experience considerations. If security measures result in customers opting for traditional checkouts instead, this system may require a rethink.
7. Test and Gather Feedback
Before you commit to implementing a full self-checkout system, it’s a good idea to pilot it in selected areas of your storefront. By gathering data and feedback before full implementation, it’s much easier to introduce changes that will make everything run smoothly.
For example, you could set up one or two self-checkout kiosks and appoint a staff member to supervise and ask for customer feedback. This helps your business to gauge demand for self-checkouts, and engage in a productive dialogue with customers i.e. “Would you use a self-checkout service? Why/why not?”
This approach allows you to analyze key metrics about the checkout experience, such as average time per transaction, average number of items, and the average number of manual interventions required. If it’s taking longer for customers to complete the self-checkout experience than you expected, this may indicate that the system is not as intuitive as you hoped.
8. Implement a Rollout and Marketing Plan
Once you’ve chosen your self-checkout system, you need a careful strategy to ensure a smooth transition into offering self-checkout at your storefront. You also want to raise awareness about your new service and create interest among customers so they feel enticed to take it up.
It’s a good idea to launch a phased implementation of your new system. This means introducing a small number of self-checkout lanes to start, before expanding into the full set-up. This phased approach allows your storefront more time for testing, training, and identifying possible issues before committing to a full-scale rollout. As part of this process, you could also consider working with a small group of customers to test your self-checkout and offer feedback.
Your marketing approach should focus on educating customers on why self-checkout helps to improve their in-store experience. Talk up the benefits, such as smaller queues, quicker transactions, and easier redemption of loyalty points. In-store signage, social media posts, and word of mouth from store staff will also help to steer customers toward the self-checkout.
9. Stay on Top of Maintenance and Upgrades
The job isn’t finished once implementation is complete. You also need to budget time and resources to ensure that your self-checkout is being properly maintained. This includes software and hardware updates, security audits, and even an appropriate cleaning schedule (your customers will thank you!)
It’s a good idea to stay on the lookout for innovations that will make the self-checkout experience even more seamless for customers. This could be better accessibility features, loyalty program integrations, or paperless transactions for sustainability.
Although initially gaining widespread popularity during the pandemic, self-checkouts continue to offer businesses and consumers a variety of benefits. In addition to reducing wait times and streamlining the checkout experience, it frees up valuable resources to reinvest in elsewhere in your business.
However, when implemented poorly, self-checkout can add considerable friction to the customer experience. This can contribute to a low uptake of self-checkout systems, taking the value out of your investment. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure that your checkout strategy is tailored to the needs of your customers and that implementation goes smoothly.
FAQs about self-checkout for small business
Q: What is self-checkout?
Self-checkout is a technology that allows customers to scan, bag, and pay for their purchases without the need for a traditional cashier. These systems are commonly found in retail environments and are designed to streamline the checkout process, typically using touchscreen interfaces, barcode scanners, payment terminals, and sometimes scales for weighing items.
Q: What is the theft rate for self-checkout?
The theft rate at self-checkout can vary widely depending on the store, location, and the specific security measures in place. Some studies have suggested that self-checkout can lead to a higher incidence of theft, either accidentally or intentionally, due to less direct oversight by staff. However, the exact rate of theft is often specific to the retailer and can be mitigated by employing anti-theft measures like video surveillance, AI monitoring, and staff oversight.
Q: What are the advantages of self-checkout?
Key advantages of self-checkout include increased efficiency, potentially lower staffing costs, and customer convenience.
Q: What are the disadvantages of self-checkout?
Self-checkout can have the potential for higher rates of shoplifting or accidental non-scanning of items. And if your system is buggy, malfunctions can cause delays and require staff intervention. It’s also worth noting that not all customers are comfortable with or able to use the technology.
Q: How much does it cost to install a self-checkout machine?
The cost of installing a self-checkout system varies based on the type and sophistication of the technology. Basic models can start from a few thousand dollars per unit, while more advanced systems with extensive features can cost tens of thousands. Additional costs include integration with existing systems, maintenance, staff training, and potential remodeling of the checkout area. Prices also depend on the supplier and specific needs of the retailer.