How critical are cashiers to the in-store experience?

Aug 03, 2015

A new survey found that slow checkout speeds and long lines were the top grievances related to the store checkout experience, and yet a lack of quality human interaction and perceived ingratitude on the part of cashiers was also a part of the shortfall.

The online survey of 2,079 adults taken by Harris Poll for Digimarc, a maker of scannable barcodes, found a majority of respondents (61 percent) agreeing that clerks focus most on scanning items and less on finding out if they are satisfied. Further, a large group, 30 percent, feel like a burden to the clerk and other customers when they have a full cart.

It’s not the only survey questioning the role of cashiers.

According to a survey from Retale that came out in April, 12 percent of shoppers who have used in-store self-checkouts use them at least partly because they don’t like interacting with cashiers. The more common reasons for using self-checkout is having a limited number of items and finding the automated lanes have no line. Among Millennials, however, the survey found 20 percent have used a self-checkout because they don’t like interacting with cashiers.

Whole Foods checkout=

Photo: RetailWire

The higher rate by Millennials was attributed to the tech-savvy generation being more skilled at using self-checkout with the implication being that self-checkouts would be used more if the technical issues were reduced.

Self-checkout’s appeal also promises to increase as mobile checkout options arrive. A Cisco Consulting Services global survey released in January found that 60 percent of consumers would like to be able to scan barcodes on items while shopping to track and pay at a self-service checkout.

Perhaps most troubling to the livelihood of cashiers, according to critics of the recent minimum wage hikes, is that rising wages may accelerate the industry’s shift toward automated options. Several articles have insinuated that McDonald’s rollout of self-service stations is traced to the wage increases, although the fast-food chain has said the goal is to provide more customizable options and open lines for its diners.

More encouragingly, Retail Feedback Group’s "2014 U.S. Supermarket Experience Study" found that 65 percent of shoppers acknowledge cashiers have a positive impact on their trip experience. Brian Numainville, the research firm’s principal, said the findings underscore "the importance of cashier-assisted lanes in high trip satisfaction."

How important are cashers to the shopping experience of consumers? How do you see the cashier’s role evolving with more automation and self-pay options arriving?

"Our data tells us that self-checkout usage by retailers has peaked. Retailers know cashiers are indeed important. Our data also tells us those same cashiers are well trained, and we already know they’re not well paid."
"I think it is critical to the shopping experience. It’s not rocket science here, folks. The cashiers at our local grocery store are consistently nice. They say hello, they ask if you found everything you needed, and they say enjoy your day or evening — always."

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31 Comments on "How critical are cashiers to the in-store experience?"

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Dick Seesel

As with so much survey data that panelists have a chance to discuss, you can interpret Retale’s findings in any number of ways. Do Millennials really want to avoid interaction with a cashier, or do they simply want to save time? And if the survey suggests they would be even happier with mobile payment options, isn’t that somewhat self-serving on Retale’s part? They are in the “mobile platform” business, after all.

Any store ought to train its checkout associates at least to treat consumers with courtesy, but more importantly they should be efficient. I don’t think consumers opt in or out of any store with a bunch of checkout lanes based on the friendliness of the associates, but rather on how quickly they get out the door.

Bob Phibbs

Whatever happens at the end of your shopping experience is the face of your brand. If the cashier is bored, slow, mistake-prone — that is the last touchpoint for your customers and where they will most often judge you.

If it is self-serve (frequently I’ve been unable to process 25 percent of items at Lowe’s) then it too is the last touchpoint and why I will do anything but go to their self-checkout line — despite the woman’s pleas to everyone walking past to try it.

If it is quick, efficient and a non-event, the final act is generally forgotten, whether that is by a machine or person.

Technology that doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, like humans that don’t work 100 percent of the time, are always a negative on the shopping experience.

Paula Rosenblum

Our data tells us that self-checkout usage by retailers has peaked. Retailers know cashiers are indeed important. Our data also tells us those same cashiers are well trained, and we already know they’re not well paid.

The retail store model of the past century has to change, but retailers have yet to figure out how to make the economics work. Millennials may be tech savvy, but they’re still human and still enjoy interaction.

It will be really interesting to watch this change unfold in the coming years. It has to.

David Biernbaum

The check-out experience and cashiers are the last impression, and the most memorable impression, of any shopping experience.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

I wrote a post on why it was time to remove cash registers, and the number of responses in defense of checkout lanes was quite amazing.

Reasons for cashiers primarily focused on either personal interaction, theft prevention or “accuracy.”

The Retail Feedback Group’s survey found that “65% of shoppers acknowledged cashiers have a positive impact.” Yet the Harris Poll found that “61% of customers reported cashiers were focused on scanning” and not them.

This is yet another tipping point for the future of the retail store. Everything, including the cost of cashiers, must be evaluated from the eyes of the consumer and what adds value. If click and collect (BOPIS) continues to accelerate, will as many cashiers be needed to scan items?

The best answer right now is “choice” … smart retailers are giving the consumers a choice of self checkout, cashier lanes or even payment in the aisles.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

No surprises here. We have always known that slow/impersonal checkout has been a customer issue. There are a couple of universal truths regarding food shopping: 1. The longer we keep customers in the store the more they buy, 2. The quicker we get them out of the store the quicker they come back.

The role of the cashier as a price scanner will continue to diminish. Self-checkout will continue to grow as will technologies allowing for scanning at the shelf using a smartphone. These technologies will eliminate any front-end wait or need to self-scan or have someone scan your purchases.

The key for supermarkets is to deploy these human resources in the store, assisting customers, asking questions, etc. Unfortunately, the payroll savings from self-checkout went directly to the bottom line with no real enhancement to the total shopping experience.

Max Goldberg

If cashiers are well trained and provide efficient assistance to customers, they can be invaluable. How many grocers put in the effort and make the financial commitment to properly training cashiers? Cashiers need to do more than just check out items. They need to interact with shoppers to make their shopping experiences better.

Self-scan and check out will continue to grow, especially with Millennial shoppers. In the not-too-distant future scanning and paying will be done with smartphones.

Zel Bianco

I think it is critical to the shopping experience. It’s not rocket science here, folks. The cashiers at our local grocery store are consistently nice. They say hello, they ask if you found everything you needed, and they say enjoy your day or evening — always. These little things make up for the times when one may not have the price correct, or may need to ask what type of vegetable this is. As my father-in-law says, “It’s nice to be nice.”

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Cashiers are important for making an impression on consumers. This is a huge challenge because on the one hand if the cashiers have a nice long friendly conversation, people in line get frustrated at how slowly the line moved. If the cashiers focus on the scanning to be fast and efficient then cashiers are perceived as unfriendly. Cashiers need to multi-task to be efficient at the checkout process, have friendly conversations while checking out, remember consumers, but do not ask if they found everything at that point (it is too late, consumers do not want to extend their visit at that point).

If consumers can use the self checkout service easily without glitches or the need for assistance, then they will be used more often. If there are glitches or assistance is needed, they take more time and are not likely to be used more frequently.

Cathy Hotka

I visited a different grocery store on Saturday and found that all — yes, all — of the full service lanes were now self-checkout. This worked great until the scale refused to recognize any of the produce items I placed on it.

Keep in mind that I had put two weeks worth of groceries into a cart before discovering this. Between the produce issues and the machine insisting that I stop loading and start bagging every few minutes, I probably would have abandoned the process if I were older than I am.

Choice is definitely the right way to go.

Tony Orlando

Pleasant, knowledgeable and efficient cashiers are key to keep them coming back, as independents better have that as their calling card. The exceptions are Costco and Sam’s Club, where people wait in line for 30 to 45 minutes or more, and yet they keep going back because of the savings.

If we have more than three people in line we open up another register, and another if needed, because in our stores they want out quickly BUT also want to be acknowledged and treated well. I don’t have the luxury to not do this everyday, and it is important to provide excellent friendly service with zero excuses. Old-fashioned service with a smile will remain as long as the earth exists, so make it right and keep it that way or risk losing business.

Ed Rosenbaum

“Check out” (not meant to be a pun) David’s response. I agree. The last impression is the one left by the cashier in the checkout process. Hopefully it is favorable so you will look forward to returning. I understand the need for self-service checkout. Many times we are in a hurry and the lines are simply too long. maybe because we have come to a popular chain at a peak time. Whatever the reason, let’s add not being a person who likes personal interaction — you make your choice and the register rings. But never forget or underestimate the need for the personal interaction.

Roger Saunders
Cashiers play a vital role from often being the first associate to greet you as you enter the store (Walgreens) to the last tetail contact in the store, offering a smile, thank you, verifying a correct order, smooth exchange of cash/credit and wishing you the best of the day. Top-flight cashiers often play the role of keeping the management team apprised of pace and unique patterns around the store (Home Depot). Watch the QSR business cashier pros — there is a reason that Chick-Fil-A’s business is growing in a robust manner, and it is not only because they serve a great product. The restaurant’s approach to incorporate the cashier in the dining experience of placing knowledgeable, confident leaders at their registers helps pace the store, move lines quickly, provide a smile and a thank you and thus make the occasion a positive one. My guess is that they have far fewer miscounts on their cash transactions as well. And sharp cashiers can guard against shrink. Anyone who has worked the retail space becomes aware that even the best dressed folks can walk out of store with something unpaid for under their coats. Cashiers are an important part of the mix. Train… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel

Cashiers are critical, but it’s all about choice. A cashier is the last point of contact at a store — a good cashier makes the experience better in memory, a bad one worse.

Joan Treistman
It’s not an either/or situation. Some people would like to interact with cashiers, others would prefer cashiers to do their jobs efficiently and quietly. If a retailer can foster a sense of pleasant convenience across all cashiers I think most shoppers will be satisfied and that last touchpoint in the store will have a positive impact. Let’s assume the cashier looks up and smiles at the customer as their turn comes up. Let’s say the cashier says something like, “Hi, hope you’re having a good day.” Well then the customer may continue the conversation or not. The cashier responds accordingly: more conversation or quiet efficiency. And as the transaction is completed, the cashier says something like, “Thanks for shopping with us today.” I think that would go a long way to creating a great shopping experience. I don’t recommend ending with, “did you find what everything you were looking for?” At the same time, for customers who prefer self-checkout, it makes sense to keep those scanners operating at 100 percent. Since there is usually a person there to help, that person can also have a smile and a pleasant “Thanks for shopping with us” send off. It’s partly about acknowledging… Read more »
Mel Kleiman

One of the reasons I love shopping at Costco is the efficiency of the check out process. One of the reason I hate shopping at Sam’s is the efficiency of the check out process.

Speed of checkout and positive attitude of checkers can be accomplished by:

  1. Hiring people who can figure out the system, giving them a system that works and training them to follow the process.
  2. Hiring people who smile and like serving customers.

Fast checkout by friendly people will be a competitive edge over automation for most customers.

Doug Garnett
All realms of mass consumer interaction suffer this struggle. As with telemarketing, we ask low-paid staff to rise to the occasion and deliver outstanding interaction with our brand or store. And yet there really isn’t much of an option. I’m intrigued that the article claimed Millennials like cashiers less but there aren’t specifics. My suspicion is that it’s an insignificant skew. Because fundamentally, automated checkout is great when it works (small number of easily scanned items). But we are talking about the chaotic environment of retail. It fails to work far more often than it works well. Also satisfaction with cashier interaction is highly dependent on the personality of the shopper. I’m a minimalist — let’s get this done so I can move on. But there are also many customers who want more interaction — a more gregarious checkout is right for them. No single approach will make us all happy. What is desperately needed would be for cashiers to develop more sensitivity to decide what kind of checkout style each customer wants. Unfortunately, ill-conceived corporate efforts often force a single style on the cashier. This removes their ability to size up the situation to deliver the customer service the customer wants… Read more »
Li McClelland
Li McClelland
2 years 3 months ago

It’s usually the produce and the coupons that muck things up in a self-checkout line. Also, items that do not scan correctly (differently than shelf price or advertised price) take time to resolve in self-checkout and can slow down that process for you and those behind you more than in a live cashier line. I and many grocery shoppers don’t need idle chit-chat with a cashier to make our day, but we do like competent and empowered human problem solvers at the register, not a computer voice — and I don’t see that changing any time soon for a large number of shoppers.

Shep Hyken

First impressions set the tone for whatever interaction is to follow. This could be the way a customer is greeted when entering the store or even before, such as the experience they might have in the parking lot.

The last impression, which many times involves a cashier, leaves a lasting impression. Regardless of how perfect the experience is prior to checking out with the cashier or walking out of the store, the last impression can either reinforce the positive experience or take it down with a mistake, a long line, a cashier with a poor attitude or any other interaction that is less that positive.

Gene Detroyer

Maybe it is just NYC, but at both Home Depot and CVS I observed multiple times that people will go to the self-checkout even when there are human cashiers waiting to help them. Isn’t that the answer to the question?

In a supermarket, what does a cashier do that the shopper can’t do themselves? Or in a department store, wouldn’t the shopper be better served if the labor was focused on serving the customer rather than checking them out?

Tom Redd

As we were taught so long ago in the POS world, the last contact point the shopper has with the store or site is POS thus the POS devices and the employees must must be the ones to leave the strong POSitive impression on the shopper.

Millennials can do whatever and think whatever but this early lesson in retail is still the law.

J. Peter Deeb

My only comment is that I seek out certain cashiers at my regular grocery store because I know that I will be treated courteously, rung up accurately and my groceries will be bagged efficiently. I will wait a little longer to get this accomplished rather than get home and discover that my produce is bruised or my chips are crushed.

Raymond D. Jones
Raymond D. Jones
2 years 3 months ago

Several years ago, we conducted ground-breaking research at the checkout with a consortium of manufacturers and retailers. The study was called Front-End Focus, and to my knowledge, it remains the most extensive research conducted on this subject.

The research underscored the importance of the checkout experience to the overall impression of the store and ultimately, the brand equity of the retailer to the shopper. It was the last, and greatest influence on the shopper and merchandising at the checkout represented over 1% of the store sales. The major concern was getting out of the store quickly and with little effort.

New technologies now offer alternative vehicles to checkout. Self checkout is preferred by some shoppers and will continue to grow in importance as Millennials become the dominant force. However, the traditional cashier continues to be the standard option and cashier training and resultant performance is still key. Human intervention is still sometimes required even with the most advanced technologies.

Currently, the checkout is a separate and sometimes negative part of the shopping trip. The real issue is how to optimize the performance at checkout and integrate it into an overall positive shopping experience.

Mark Burr
2 years 3 months ago

As options evolve, smart retailers will understand what the evolution is doing for them by creating the ability to serve more customers faster, and with less labor.

But…here’s the kicker. They are not faster, it’s just that they are perceived as faster by the customer.

More technology options allow for even better customer service. Hiring the right people to fill these rolls that are becoming known as shopper assistants is critical. Retailers that seek outstanding personalities and customer-focused associates for these roles will make all the difference.

If these options are looked at solely as a labor savings, they will fail. Smart retailers will double and triple their customer service while having the opportunity to dramatically enhance their experience by fully utilizing the tools and the people to their full potential.

Retailers that scoff at the options and do not keep up with the advancements should beware that studies do show that even the consumer that chooses not to use any of the options still expects them to be there.

John Karolefski
John Karolefski
2 years 3 months ago

I love all of these surveys listing shopper complaints about checkout cashiers. Has anyone ever talked to the cashiers to find out their side of the story? I did. And the feedback will certainly make you think twice about complaining about cashiers. Read my column on this topic on (It is the second post from the top of home page).

Friendly and engaging cashiers are very important to the shopping experience. Many shoppers go back to them when frustrated with the glitches of self-checkout units.

Look at what happened in the U.K. in April. The Morrisons supermarket chain polled its shoppers and found that that 60 percent of them prefer a staffed checkout instead of self-checkout. Why? Because they liked to chat with the cashiers or share a joke. Imagine that. Human talks to Human instead of Man interacts with Machine, a growing occurrence that is infecting our high-tech society

So Morrisons installed 1,000 staffed Express Checkouts in its stores in response to shopper demand for fast but personalized service.

Lee Peterson

It’s long been known that the first and last 5 minutes of ANY experience are the most memorable as well as the most influential to the future of that experience. So yeah, the “people” aspect of checkout is HUGE. If the thing you remember the most from your retail experience is a machine, shame on you. That’s a brand opportunity squandered.

Check out needs to be both: high tech for no mistakes and speed, and high touch for someone brilliant to engage with and to thank you very much. We all know the retailers that totally get this factor: Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple, and Trader Joe’s.

It’s no coincidence that that list is the “usual suspects” in terms of great, modern retail. High tech/high touch? They get it.

Ralph Jacobson

I think the connected consumer is actually becoming adverse to interacting with anyone in the stores. This is not limited to millennial shoppers nor cashiers. Have we seen any studies on that?

People just don’t like having to talk with other people these days, it seems. I applaud merchants moves toward more self checkout. This is the natural evolution of that service, with more innovations to come, I’m certain.

Kenneth Leung

Cashiering is a customer service function, not just a checkout function. A well trained cashier can answer questions, address problems (like if the package is obviously broken or the fruit spoiled on the bottom of the box) and have that final sendoff to the end of the shopping experience. There will be a segment that wants to self checkout (I do when I have 3 – 4 scannable items at THD) but the rest of the time I use the cashier. I think most people forget that shopping is more a customer service experience than a product fulfillment experience.

Bernice Hurst

We are more than oceans apart on this one. Have a look at the recent stories about Tesco deciding to change the voice — and message — at self-scan checkout. Maybe American machines work better than British ones. Maybe Americans are better at using machines than British people. Or maybe Americans working at and using checkouts just dislike people more than machines.

gordon arnold

In the retail age of instant gratification, is it any wonder that checkout evolves from bottleneck to gridlock in the eyes of the consumer? As we continue to lower wages and eliminate benefits quality employees are replaced with qualified candidates for the cashier position. Self-checkout equipment gets older and less reliable, causing more and more downtime during store hours. It is amazing to me how companies throw billions of dollars at new IT technologies and checkout gets cut after cut. It is getting harder and harder to find derogatory customer comments that don’t call for action in customer checkout experience or a lack of qualified help. Is there an APP for fixing this mess? I think not.

Jerry Long
Jerry Long
1 year 10 months ago

In a small store like ours, we feel the eye to eye contact helps make the customer feel welcome and in return willing to come back to us. Often we are able to offer suggestions on how to best use the item being purchased.

"Our data tells us that self-checkout usage by retailers has peaked. Retailers know cashiers are indeed important. Our data also tells us those same cashiers are well trained, and we already know they’re not well paid."
"I think it is critical to the shopping experience. It’s not rocket science here, folks. The cashiers at our local grocery store are consistently nice. They say hello, they ask if you found everything you needed, and they say enjoy your day or evening — always."

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