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The pros and cons of supermarket self-checkout

Although most shoppers have embraced self-checkout, our new survey shows they found plenty to complain about

Published: April 20, 2015 08:15 PM

Illustration: Neil Webb

There’s a lot to like about your supermarket's self-checkout. It's usually a fast track out the door, shoppers who use it tend to have fewer items in their carts, and you can pack your bags more carefully because you're in complete control. Three-quarters of the 62,917 subscribers who participated in Consumer Reports’ latest grocery-store survey tried to check themselves out over the past year, and nearly three out of four who did so applauded it as a time-saver.

Considering that the top complaint among those surveyed is too few open checkout lanes, self-checkout has the potential to make or break the shopping experience. Or at least have an impact on whether you walk out with a smile or a frown.

While our survey revealed few complaints about insufficient checkout lanes at chains like Fareway Stores, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods Market, those problems plagued many others including Pathmark, Waldbaum's, and Walmart.

The mere presence of self-checkout, however, doesn't ensure satisfaction. Three out of 10 respondents who used self-checkout complained that it didn’t work properly; 27 percent were ticked off that the customer ahead of him or her dawdled. Twenty-two percent were irritated because they couldn’t find a staffer at the front end—industry-speak for the checkout area—to resolve a problem, while 14 percent confessed that they had a hard time simply trying to figure out how to navigate the system.

The table below breaks down by gender and ages the self-checkout problems experienced by Consumer Reports subscribers.

Why self-checkout can be annoying

 

Men

Women

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Self-checkout didn’t work properly

30%

32%

38%

38%

36%

33%

26%

The customer(s) ahead of me took too long

30

22

36

42

35

27

21

I needed help, but staff was not available

20

2

30

32

29

23

16

It was hard to figure out how to use

14

14

10

7

9

12

18

—Tod Marks

Read our article about 9 ways to save at the supermarket. Be sure to also check out our free supermarket buying advice


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