What airline self-check-in can teach retailers
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.
In 2004, more than 80 percent of airline passengers walked up to the ticket counter and talked to an actual human being before boarding a plane. Today, only about 20 percent of passengers are checked-in by a human agent.
In similar fashion, mobile and self-checkout not only promise to dramatically cut labor costs for retailers, but wait times for customers. What lessons can be gleaned from the airlines industry’s rapid adoption of self-check-in as retailers usher in a new era of self-checkout?
Experiment and test, but recognize automation integration won’t be easy and will likely take years to scale. Continental Airlines installed the first self-service check-in option in 1995 and took until 2003 to bring self-check-in to all its airport terminals.
Automation can support loyalty. Retailers may be able to tap “switching costs” in privileges and perks for loyal consumers, such as express or mobile checkout, as airlines have done with boarding and booking privileges.
Automation isn’t incompatible with high customer service rankings. Alaska Airlines, the first airline to establish web check-in back in 1999, has been ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the traditional carrier segment for eight years in a row.
Automation does not eliminate the need for human-driven interactions. Despite self-check-in dominating, roving agents in airports still help customers use self-service kiosks. A few consumer segments will be slow to change and uncomfortable with a purely automated process. Retail customers will revolt over a total mobile checkout.
Consumers perceive humans as more empathetic, but not more responsive. A 2013 study found that human agents at airports ranked higher for such things as reliability, assurance and empathy but found no significant difference between human agents and self-service technologies when it came to responsiveness.
Move ahead with other initiatives. Retailers shouldn’t wait until they’ve reached 100 percent adoption rates with mobile and self-checkout before experimenting with other automation strategies. Despite an estimated 20 percent of airline travelers still uncomfortable with self-check-in, the airline industry continues to experiment with automation in other areas, including self-service baggage kiosks.
What lessons does self-check-in at airports offer retailers around mobile and self-checkout? Where do you see retailers falling short or missing opportunities as mobile pay and other self-checkout technologies take hold?