How Do Shoppers Feel about Retail Automation?

Self check out is ubiquitous in grocery stores and Big Box shops now. Yet a recent survey shows that two thirds of shoppers have had a failure with self checkout.

Two thirds. Imagine a vending machine that failed for two thirds of users. Imaging an industrial automation solution that failed 67% of the time. Imagine an autonomous vehicle that could only succeed one third of the time.

You probably can’t imagine any of those things. If a supposed solution fails two thirds of the time, it’s a failure.

It’s not that simple, though. In spite of the frequency of failure, 60% of shoppers reported that they prefer self-checkout over having a human being check them out. Almost half of respondents said they always use self-check Only 3% never use self-check and don’t care to.

Why? 85% believe that it’s faster, though this does not actually seem to be the case. More than one third use them more now because of the pandemic — many say they don’t want to interact with a human being because of the possibility of contagion. This is true even though 65% worry that the self-check lines are not hygienic either.


Some 19% like the interaction with a human being and 25% have had a bad experience with a self-check option which keeps them from trying it again.

Some shoppers — you can find them on social media — dislike the self-check options either because they believe that they lead to the loss of jobs for human beings (which is not true) or because they resent being asked to do extra work for the store without getting any benefits.

The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets, and the Do-It-Yourself Economy by Christopher Andrews claims that “shadow work,” including having to ring up and bag your own groceries as well as filling a plate at a salad bar, pumping your own gas, and various other arduous chores that used to be done for us by paid workers, have reduced American quality of life by adding to our workloads. 


Apart from the illusion that it’s faster and the possibility of avoiding human contact, self-check doesn’t have benefits for shoppers. Does it help the retailers?

Some experts claim that self-check can reduce labor costs by 66%. On the other hand, self-check lines also significantly increase shrinkage, both because of innocent errors and because it’s easier to steal goods during self checkout than it is to shoplift in front of a cashier.

They cause shoppers to buy fewer items and increase the number of abandoned carts as people get frustrated and walk out without their purchases.

This form of automation may not really offer a respite from dull, dirty, dangerous work. It doesn’t reduce costs for consumers. But it is almost certainly here to stay.


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