Big-Box Stores Reconsider Self-Checkout Systems Amid Theft and Customer Dissatisfaction

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At least a handful of Ontario Canadian Tire locations have removed their self-checkout machines.

From Canada to the U.S. and England, Retailers are Rethinking the Self-Service Trend

In a notable shift in retail operations, several big-box stores are moving away from self-checkout systems, a trend that had been gaining momentum over the past decade. According to CBC News, this change is happening across various countries and is driven by a range of factors including customer dissatisfaction and increased theft.

Dwayne Ouelette, who took over the Canadian Tire store in North Bay, Ontario, removed its self-checkout machines last July, opting instead for cashiers. Ouelette expressed his discomfort with the machines and a preference for providing customers with direct interaction with staff for any queries or concerns.

Self-checkouts were originally introduced as a cost-cutting measure and a way to expedite the checkout process. However, the shift back to cashier-manned checkouts is becoming more evident. Along with North Bay, a Canadian Tire in Mississauga, Ontario, has also abandoned its self-checkout machines. Similar changes have been observed in the United States, with three Walmarts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Booths supermarket in England, where self-checkouts are being phased out in most of their stores.

Retail adviser David Ian Gray, from DIG360 Consulting, highlighted the “friction” caused by self-checkout systems, including technical issues and customer frustration. Gray pointed out that theft at self-checkout areas is a significant problem, as these areas lack the monitoring typically provided by cashiers.

A poll commissioned by U.S. personal finance website LendingTree revealed that 15% of 2,000 Americans surveyed admitted to stealing at self-checkout. Another 21% said they had accidentally taken an item without scanning it. Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, emphasized the risks associated with self-checkouts for retailers, despite their potential benefits.

In North Bay, general manager Derek Shogren acknowledged theft as a concern but noted that the primary reason for ditching self-checkouts was to improve customer flow with a new system where all shoppers wait in the same line for the next available cashier.

Customer responses to the new format have been positive, with many preferring the personal interaction. In contrast, at the Canadian Tire store in Mississauga, where self-checkouts were also removed, customer reactions were mixed. Some customers, like Junaid Chaudhry, saw this as a step backward, missing the speed and convenience of self-service. Others, like Claudette McKay, appreciated the customer-focused approach.

Walmart in the U.S. and Booths in England have not cited specific reasons for the removal of their self-checkouts. However, Booths managing director Nigel Murray mentioned the incompatibility of self-checkout with their range of unpackaged items.

Despite these trends, self-checkout is not likely to vanish entirely. Schulz’s survey found that 40% of respondents frequently use self-checkout, and Gray anticipates that retailers will likely scale back rather than completely eliminate self-service options. This sentiment is echoed in the recent changes at Shoprite drugstores in Delaware, which, following customer backlash, reduced their self-checkout machines and reintroduced more cashier services.