Automation is on the rise as businesses focus on streamlining processes and improving efficiency. A clear example in the brick-and-mortar space is the use of self-checkouts. And as this technology has shifted from a retail novelty (“look mom, I’m a cashier!”), to an everyday feature in stores from grocery to airport kiosks, consumers are forming opinions.
Our latest wave of the Magid Motivations study reveals a significant level of consumer acceptance of self-checkouts, with 47% of consumers favoring them over employee staffed registers. However, it is important to note the generational differences, with 64% of Gen Z favoring them compared to 32% of Boomers. In addition, our research found that 21% of consumers only use them when forced to.
Bottomline, although self-checkouts have become an everyday feature of retail stores, 38% of consumers would still pick being helped in the checkout process.
The story is not as simple as the data would suggest
In fact, the conversation is deeper than the choice between self-checkout and traditional staffed registers. Our data indicated that a top determinant of customer satisfaction is a smooth and hassle-free checkout process. The underlying message is crystal clear— consumers don’t care how they get out of the store, they just want to! While implementing self-checkout kiosks might shave operation costs and elevate profit margins, it could inadvertently chip away at customer experience if it introduces friction in a shopper’s journey.
The more important point is not if the consumer uses self-check-out but how it makes them feel. Although the benefits of reduced costs and enhanced scalability are important, they cut into the core of the in-store experience: human connection. According to our 2023 Motivations study, 1 in 3 consumers claim the in-store experience has become too impersonal. This sentiment spans across all generations, with 28% of Gen Z and 35% of Millennials feeling this way. No matter the age, everyone loves attention!
How to draw the “checkout” line?
The data highlighted the dilemma all retailers are facing. They want to find a way to streamline operations and drive margin, but need to be mindful of the impact on customers. There is a delicate balance between embracing technological advancements and preserving the warmth of a personable shopping experience—a key ingredient in nurturing loyal, contented customers.
Consumers tell us that the human element is pivotal in retail. Consumers favor recognition and personalized interactions, ranging from simple greetings to bespoke services like personal shopping assistance or enjoying a complimentary coffee. This is true among the digital-savvy youth, as our data indicates that even Gen Z and Millennials yearn for these connections. We found that both cohorts value when employees are pleasant and interact with them; that 1 out of 5 of Gen Z and Millennials want employees to teach them something new; and the same amount wants to be served by employees who have had a personal experience with the products they are selling.
So, what is the real answer on self-checkout? Look at automation when it can optimize margin and customer experience. Employee staffed registers play a significant role in shaping the in-store experience for consumers. Make sure both formats are equally available and easy – it’s about offering a choice, not prescribing a singular path. Remember, a quicker, automated checkout does not universally translate to a superior experience—some customers may equate a rush with a loss of valued connection, which could impact loyalty.
The bottom line: Winning one smile at a time!
Winning the retail war is about winning hearts in the physical store. It’s about creating moments and memories that spark loyalty. Retailers have an opportunity to showcase their vitality by offering authentic and fulfilling in-store experiences that consumers truly crave. Next time you think about replacing a person with a scanner, remember that you are not only replacing hands, you are replacing their smile.