Nearly eight years after it began removing self-checkout stations from its stores, Albertsons has changed its tune and is now putting self-checkout kiosks in all of its nearly 2,300 stores.
The retailer has been "aggressively" rolling out new Toshiba self-checkouts since the beginning of the year at its Albertsons, Haggen, United Supermarkets and other banners, said Rucha Nanavati, group vice president of information technology at Albertsons. The grocer is also working on updating and adding more self-checkout units to stores that already have Toshiba systems, including its Jewel, ACME, Shaw’s, Safeway, Carrs, Tom Thumb, Randalls and Vons banner stores. Albertsons officials declined to cite specific numbers outlining self-checkout growth, including how many stores now offer the technology.
Albertsons began phasing out self-checkout kiosks back in 2011, citing a desire to offer more personal service to shoppers even as rivals like Kroger expanded their use of the technology. Even after undergoing major changes, including consolidation under private equity owner Cerberus Capital Management in 2013 and the acquisition of Safeway in 2014, Albertsons maintained its stance, offering shelf-checkout in only a small number of locations.
“Shortly after the merger of Albertsons and Safeway, it was important to have as many human touchpoints as possible, so customers would know to expect best-in-class service and they would have opportunities to meet and talk with us,” Nanavati told Grocery Dive in an email.
The company's position has shifted as demand for additional checkout options has increased, and as stores like Amazon Go have raised the bar on front-end technology. A report from February noted Albertsons was bringing self-checkout back to stores in its hometown of Boise after a long absence.
The new Toshiba System 7 self-checkout system streamlines the front-end experience by reducing the number of necessary interactions with store associates down to as few as possible, Bill Campbell, head of Americas at Toshiba, told Grocery Dive. Instead of interrupting the customer’s transaction, Toshiba’s new system waits until the customer hits the “total” button to pull up any necessary intervention, he added.
In addition, due to the systems’ portability and flexibility, Albertsons can tailor the self-checkout experience to its specific store. “They can create different levels of experiences depending on the implementation, demographic, store, or banner," Campbell added. "They could have a cashless version, they could have a mobile component, they could have a with cash one, and so on."
Personalization is important to consumers, and what works for one store might not work for them all. Although the evolution of front-end technology is one of the retailer’s reasons for giving self-checkout a second chance, Nanavati said there’s more to it.
“We want our customers to have as many options as possible. If they have a small basket of items, they’d rather get out quickly,” she added.
Checkout wait times are a headache for consumers. When faced with a long line, 65% of shoppers say they head for a self-checkout kiosk, according to a survey last year from Digimarc and Forrester Consulting. However, studies have found that self checkout doesn’t actually save customers any time and increases theft.
In 2013, Costco also announced plans to eliminate its self-checkout because it believed its employees could do a better job, but the company recently released plans to begin testing them again in some stores. The retailer has installed 125 self-service stations in its 536 U.S. stores. Costco’s CFO Richard Galanti noted customers are using the technology in high-volume locations.
Many other retailers are investing in self-checkout technology along with mobile checkout that utilizes shoppers' phones as well as handheld digital scanners. Dollar General is expanding a mobile checkout option, as is Kroger, while Walmart has added a new Fast Lane mobile checkout experience at a store in Canada.
But Toshiba's global director of self-service solutions, Paul Lysko, told Grocery Dive that speed depends on a customer’s proficiency with self-checkout and basket size. “If you use a stopwatch, it might be true that you can check out more quickly on an attended lane with a cashier than you can yourself in a self-checkout lane," he said. "The experience is definitely in your control. What we find is that consumers prefer the choice."
Other choices Albertsons offers customers include Drive Up & Go store pickup, home delivery and an online specialty store launched last year called Albertsons Digital Marketplace. Albertsons has also said it plans to trial a checkout-free system similar to Amazon Go for select store purchases and at its fuel stations.