Harris Teeter tests self-checkout store

Photo: @jdnjd83 via Twenty20
Apr 01, 2019
Tom Ryan

While cashier-less stores like Amazon Go that feature mobile checkout have gotten much of the attention lately, Harris Teeter is testing a store featuring self-checkout-only stations.

The 18,000-square-foot store in Charlotte is about half the size of a traditional Harris Teeter and has no manned checkouts. Harris Teeter says the store has “significantly” smaller transactions than a typical location as its customer base is largely comprised of urban residents and professionals. The increased number of self-checkout stations is expected to speed transactions with so many consumers requiring express-lane checkouts.

“We believe this will allow us to provide better customer service by having more lanes available, so shoppers should be able to get in and out more quickly. This is our only store of this size, so [there are] no plans to move forward past this unique design,” Harris Teeter said in a statement to the Charlotte Observer.

The store won’t eliminate jobs. The transition is expected to be complete by mid-April.

The test comes as a plethora of mobile self-checkout options have arrived. Amazon.com, Kroger, Meijer, Sam’s Club and Macy’s are among those enabling shoppers to essentially scan items and check out via their smartphones.

Self-scanning terminals, however, have become an expectation at larger grocers and discounters and are either staying in place or expanding at many locations. New research from P&S Intelligence cites labor shortages and labor savings as the two primary factors for growth in self-checkout systems.

While often earning a bad rap for the glitches shoppers experience using them, self-scanning stations are also looked at by many retailers and shoppers as a way to solve the in-store pain point of long checkout lines. And many consumers, particularly younger ones, are growing more comfortable using self-checkout.

According to a survey by Civic Science from July 2018, 57 of U.S. consumers preferred to check out with a cashier, 33 percent via self-checkout kiosk and 10 percent had no preference.

Self-checkout kiosks were preferred by 46 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34, 35 percent for those between the ages of 35 and 54 and only 19 percent by those 55 and older.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does a self-checkout-only store make sense for a store such Harris Teeter’s that relies on smaller transaction sizes? Do you see value for self-scan terminals, particularly as mobile checkout advances?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"This makes sense from a speed and efficiency perspective. However, it’s never good to deny the customer choice."
"Self-checkout only stores for small grocery stores or convenience stores makes perfect sense."
"Scanning guns require effort and likely are a great place to pick up a nice case of the flu, just saying."

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19 Comments on "Harris Teeter tests self-checkout store"

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Mark Ryski

There’s no question that self-checkout is going to become better and even more pervasive as the technology improves and market acceptance increases. However, offering a self-checkout only option seems premature. Retailers need to be careful of any approach that excludes a portion of their shopper base – and the negative publicity that can sometimes accompany it.

Neil Saunders

This makes sense from a speed and efficiency perspective. However, it’s never good to deny the customer choice. There are still lots of people who prefer to use a manned register. Also, self-checkout doesn’t necessarily reduce the wait. Anyone who has used self-service registers at Target at a busy time knows this!

Phil Masiello

Giving customers control over the speed of their checkout experience makes sense for all retailers and especially food retailers. I am certain there will still be staff in the store to help consumers if they have problems with the checkouts, so the store will not be devoid of people. I certainly think that the love of self-checkouts is more prevalent with younger consumers. These smaller footprint grocery stores with below average basket sizes are perfect for self-checkout. This is a great execution test.

Rob Gallo

Self-checkout has gotten much better but it can still be slow for those that are actually good at self-scanning or when there are more than a couple of produce items in the basket. The checkout experience gets really poor when you only have a few items and are forced to wait in line in for either a staffed checkout OR self-checkout. Having more self-checkout stations can make sense in a store with smaller basket sizes. I would worry that this store is actually capturing (or could capture) a decent amount of larger baskets (15+ items) that will avoid this store due to a real or perceived poor checkout experience. Losing even 10 percent of these larger baskets could change the store’s profit potential.

Georganne Bender

Increasing the number of checkout lanes available is always good for consumers. Having them all self-checkouts will be fine for some shoppers, others will still prefer a live cashier but if none are available, and they choose to shop at this store, they will adapt.

But self-checkouts aren’t perfect, consumers still experience frustrations when they don’t work as intended. And I’m not sure how Harris Teeter can say shoppers will be able to get in and out of the store more quickly because of them. When the store is busy lines form at self-checkouts, too.

Matt Henderson

Personally, I feel like self checkout is more about cost savings for the retailer than it is about convenience for me.

Adrian Weidmann

Self-checkout is becoming more and more prevalent and preferred by many people. The quiet secret is that retailers typically implement this technology to reduce payroll costs — not to offer a better shopping experience. That being said, self-checkout in many cases is, in fact, a preferred experience but I would suggest that there should ALWAYS be at least one person available to help customers in any way at the checkout — regardless of the technology and process.

David Weinand

Interesting choice for Harris Teeter given they only have one store that has the profile of smaller footprint/smaller transaction size (e.g. in the Southeast, there aren’t many large urban environments). However, for urban environments, this type of store will likely become the norm as self-scan and self-checkout advances even further and younger generations, who are comfortable with this technology, become the primary shoppers.

Steve Montgomery
A disclaimer – I love self-checkout. My reasoning is simple. Like the people shopping in the new Harris Teeter’s my transactions are usually small. Rather than wait in line behind someone with a large volume of items I can quickly scan my items and depart. In general, should there be an item for which I require assistance, help is usually located nearby. I occasionally go into a new Woodman’s location. It has the small self-checkout kiosks that we are all familiar with. However, they also have standard size lanes for self-checkout which always seem to have heavy usage. Why? Because people like to be control or at least feel that they are. My assumption is that those using these lanes feel that it’s faster than waiting behind someone in a regular checkout lane. They also get to control what items go in what bags. On the other hand, I don’t see mobile self-checkout for those with a large number of items becoming widely adopted by customers. I have watched people use this technology and it… Read more »
Tom Erskine
22 days 4 hours ago

“Self-checkout” is a cost-saving measure often promoted as customer convenience. “No checkout” (e.g. Amazon Go) delivers convenience by eliminating the step altogether. They’re very different, and retailers shouldn’t attempt to position one as a substitute for the other.

Shep Hyken

Self-checkout is more and more popular – and more and more customers (of all ages) are becoming comfortable. The key to any self-service option is to back it up with a human to support when needed. Harris Teeter knows its customers, and I’m sure will have someone there to support the customer who is not comfortable (yet) with the self-service checkout. Self-checkout is evolving. These self-service lanes are at one end while Amazon Go’s technology is at the other. I predict the future of self-checkout will be more of the Amazon experience.

Cynthia Holcomb

There is a big difference between the experience of Amazon Go versus scanning purchases. Having to scan multi-item purchases after waiting in line for a checkout station all the while watching store personnel look busy talking to one another is frustrating. Scanning guns require effort and likely are a great place to pick up a nice case of the flu, just saying. Agreed, retailers are struggling with labor shortages but also enjoy labor savings at the expense of the Holy Grail of the “customer experience.” Retailers, especially grocery, singing the song of automated checkouts may face a backlash. After all, most customers in a hurry or otherwise do not enjoy interfacing with a machine. Human-to-human still offers the best customer experience. Too much sun will burn.

Zach Zalowitz

It only makes as much sense as the consumer is asking for it, and with the statistics shared in this article, half still do not want self-checkout. To me, there’s some cognitive dissonance in this article (I believe intentionally).

It’s a little confusing hearing the article mention that this “won’t eliminate jobs” but also mention “…labor shortages and labor savings as the two primary factors for growth in self-checkout systems.” Also, it mentioned 50 percent still want full-service check-out.

Many of us can recall a personal grocery store shopping experience where the self-checkout took marginally less time because there’s always a bottleneck somewhere for one person and typically these grocers staff only one attendant manning all the self-checkouts (ID checks, voids, price checks, technical issues). The real value is actually a “no checkout” not a “self-checkout,” but we’re even seeing Amazon pull back from that to a degree. More to come here I’m sure, and hopefully grocery leads other industries in this area!

Kai Clarke

Self-checkout just makes more sense for a grocery model. Any way to control costs, expedite customers through the payment process, and allow for more flow (self-check stands take up less room) is a win. As the self-check stands get more accurate, the flow will increase and consumers will prefer this model over a “high touch” traditional model.

Ken Morris

Consumers have become more receptive to self-checkout as systems have improved and shoppers have become more skilled at using self-checkout terminals. While they are still not conducive to large orders or when your basket includes a lot of produce that requires a lot of product look-ups and weighing, self-checkout is often the preferred option for small basket sizes. Self-checkout only stores for small grocery stores or convenience stores makes perfect sense.

In fact, according to BRP’s consumer study, many consumers will actually choose to shop at a store that offers self-checkout over a store that doesn’t offer this service: 75 percent of Millennial and younger consumers and 45 percent of Gen X and older. I believe customer mobile checkout will eclipse the hardwired self-checkout at some point but for now stores with a lower average number of items per transaction will benefit from this mix. But 100 percent just won’t work — what happens when you can’t read a barcode or it’s not on file?

Cate Trotter

There’s a logic to this — a smaller footprint store targeting a large number of small transactions. The aim will be to make things faster for customers, reduce queues and free up more space in the store — self-checkout machines take up less space overall. But it will only work if it’s really well run. That means having multiple staff on hand to help with problems (which we all know crop up regularly with self-checkout systems still). One person covering the whole area won’t be enough. If you really want to sell speed and convenience then you’ll need enough staff to jump in and keep everything moving. I could see other similar smaller footprint stores moving towards a similar approach as a hybrid between tech and personnel power.

Tom Dougherty

It is about time. Harris Teeter is my local Supermarket.

Anything that gets you through checkout quicker and with more personal control IS better customer service.

Now I don’t even have to hear meanness and pandering phrases like “have a good one” and “did you find everything you were looking for?”

It’s not for everyone. Just those with no time to spare and the ability to move their arms.

Craig Sundstrom

In California and I imagine soon in other states (if not already), alcoholic beverage sales require a clerk; so if the store is going to offer that category, then a completely self-checked store isn’t possible. Beyond that little or maybe not so little detail, I guess whatever works. As for mobile checkout: I remain unconvinced it’s the development the world is waiting for.

Oliver Guy

Interesting … the theft associated with these terminals is really underestimated. I read a piece last week that talked about how retail theft is on the rise partly due to this. Statistics included 200 thefts per hour from grocers in the UK.

What is needed however is first class supervision of the terminals — this also helps with customer satisfaction. People are always the weak point in technology change and with something like this too many retailers place their least skilled staff supervising these machines — when it should be the most skilled.

"This makes sense from a speed and efficiency perspective. However, it’s never good to deny the customer choice."
"Self-checkout only stores for small grocery stores or convenience stores makes perfect sense."
"Scanning guns require effort and likely are a great place to pick up a nice case of the flu, just saying."

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