Controversy rages over supermarket checkouts

Source: The New Daily

While some customers may celebrate the removal of “divisive” self-serve checkouts from an independent supermarket, the reality is that they are here to stay, according to a retail expert.

IGA Greenslopes, in Brisbane, made the decision to shut down their self-serve checkouts because of high levels of theft.

Self-serve registers and smart technologies are a divisive subject for consumers, said Gary Mortimer, professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at the QUT Business School.

“Some consumers really love the technology, they see value in packing their own goods, holding their own transactions and being able to get in and out quickly,” Mortimer said.

“You’ll have other consumers who miss the traditional experience of having someone to talk to at the checkout, having them pack your bags and ring up your groceries.”

He said it is surprising that the debate around self-serve technology is “still raging after two decades”.

“There’s always been this narrative that the more technology we put in, the fewer jobs there are, which isn’t quite correct,” Mortimer said.

“The key reason why Greenslopes decided to remove that technology was that they were experiencing a higher level of debt.”

The IGA in question, in Greenslopes, Brisbane. Photo: Google

Changing technology

While some Australian stores have introduced methods like locking up expensive meat products to stop theft, there are plenty of retailers ensuring that consumers are the ones to benefit from technological advancement.

Mortimer said smaller retailers, like an IGA, face different challenges from major chains.

“It doesn’t have the infrastructure that major supermarkets have like AI scanning, cameras and smart gates,” he said.

“The question smaller retailers face today is do we keep this technology and expose ourselves to theft, or do we remove it entirely and put more members on in the front of the store?”

Coles has introduced smart gates to reduce retail theft, while Mortimer said Woolworths has begun rolling out ‘scan and go’ technology.

“A number of their stores enable you to scan a barcode with your smartphone and then you can leave the store without unpacking or re-scanning those groceries,” he said.

“Technology is constantly shifting and changing, and I understand that the growth of technology does tend to create some hesitation and concern with consumer groups.”

The future

Other retailers overseas are experimenting with checkout-less technologies, including Aldi and Amazon.

amazon layoffs

Amazon is changing the way they use technology in their stores. Photo: AAP

Customers in American Amazon stores can scan their cards upon entry, do their shopping and walk out without ever scanning a product or passing through a register.

Mortimer said we should expect to see the technology arrive in Australia in the near future.

“The technology works well when you’ve got a small range of products that are reasonably static,” he said.

“It’s less productive and efficient when dealing with thousands of customers every day and thousands of different products in different locations.”

For that reason, Amazon announced that they will be removing the just walk-out technology from certain larger stores, but keeping it in their convenience stores.

“We have strong conviction that Just Walk Out technology will be the future in stores that have a curated selection where customers can pop in, grab the small number of items they need, and simply walk out,” Amazon said.

“Even with relatively few items sold per visit, we have already sold over 18 million items in Just Walk Out stores, and there are now more than 140 third-party locations with Just Walk Out technology in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.”

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