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The Wall Street Journal has an analysis of a report issued by FMI-The Food Industry Association indicating that "self-checkout is nearly twice as widespread as it was before the pandemic, representing 30% of all grocery store transactions in 2021, according to an FMI-The Food Industry Association report released last week. That is up from 18% in 2018. The machines are now at 96% of the 38,000 retail stores (across 96 companies) the group surveyed."

The Journal continues:

"Chains including Walmart Inc., the Kroger Co., Dollar General Corp. and Albertsons Cos. are piloting stores that offer only self-checkout lanes. Costco Wholesale Corp. recently brought the technology back to some of its locations after removing it in 2013.

"Target Corp. has ramped up its self-checkout offerings in recent years and now offers the tech in nearly all of its stores nationwide 'to give more guests a fast and autonomous alternative,' a Target spokeswoman says. The company says it has increased staff at the same time.

"Southeastern Grocers, which owns Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie, has the machines in more than half of its stores. 'Including self-checkouts in our stores is not due to labor concerns, but as an added benefit for our customers. Due to their positive response, we will continue to install them,' a spokeswoman says.

"With the turnover rate for grocery store employees in 2021 at 48%, down slightly from a record high in the prior year, according to FMI, industry experts believe grocers may have no choice but to expand their use in the coming months."

At this point, the Journal writes, "Smart carts that tally each item as you shop are now available at 3% of stores, FMI reports, and 19% of stores say they are planning to roll out the technology in 2022."

KC's View:

A few points here.

First, while the technology certainly has improved over the years, the self-checkout experience hasn't really made any quantum leaps since it was first introduced, which is one of the reasons that I think that it will be worth it for retailers to invest in smart-cart and checkout-free technologies that leap-frog what currently exists in so many stores.

There are some really interesting developments taking place in this space - like the new Zippin Lane concept, which you can check out (no pun intended) here.

This concept has been introduced in a number of sports stadiums, and Zippin describes it as "a new turnkey, pre-fab, single-lane solution that can be deployed in one week";  it isn't hard to imagine how the tech could be expanded and deployed in larger retail formats.

Second, while I understand that retailers want to communicate the idea that this is about consumer convenience and not labor savings, I think that this is a fiction - both things can be true at the same time.  At the moment, when labor issues are top of mind for so many retailers, finding ways to eliminate at least some human interactions from the store experience has got to be a priority.

Also, let's face it - how often do shoppers think of the checkout experience as being additive to the shopping trip? Not often.  (There are some stores, of course, who can legitimately claim that their checkouts are pleasant, but there are a lot more stores that are just deluding themselves about the point.). Mrs.Content Guy told me yesterday about using the staffed checkout at our local Whole Foods - a store that supposedly has a high service level - and, after the checkout person scanned all the items, he simply looked at her, expecting her to bag the products herself.  She did it, but it just seemed counterintuitive.  (Maybe they're not allowed to bag items if people bring their own bags, which she did, but since stores en courage people to bring their own bags, maybe it calls for a clearer delineation of expectations.)