Many popular retailers have utilized and even relied on self-checkout in recent years to offer customers speed and convenience. But stores that rely on self-checkouts might be doing more harm than good.
A new study published in the Journal of Business Research by researchers from Drexel University and the University of San Diego indicated that self-checkouts can damage customer loyalty.
The study found that as customers are forced to scan more items, their checkout experience becomes less rewarding. The researchers also said that customers experienced negative consequences with larger orders, such as the extra effort to bag purchases.
"For both moderately sized and large baskets, regular checkout systems have a positive impact on customers’ loyalty to the store," the study said, noting that self-checkouts do worse for loyalty.
The research comes as some stores have opted to roll back self-checkout over concerns of theft. In 2023, Costco began policing its self-checkout lanes to catch nonmembers shopping in the store.
Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said the implementation of self-checkout has led to some inventory shrink, but not to the same extent reported by other retailers.
"In the past several years, our inventory shrink has increased by a couple of basis points, in part, we believe, due to the rollout of self-checkout," Galanti said.
The new university research might give companies even more ammunition to scale back self-checkouts.
“Our findings indicate that self-checkout systems, despite their advantages in terms of speed, ease of use, and cost reduction, can result in lower customer loyalty compared to regular checkout systems, especially when the number of purchased items is relatively high (e.g., more than 15 items),” said Yanliu Huang, an associate professor at Drexel.
Researchers did note that when customers were encouraged to think of the extra work involved with self-checkout as a positive experience, their perceived loyalty was similar to those who use regular checkout lanes.
"To overcome the negative impacts of using self-checkout on customer loyalty, retailers should attempt to make the self-checkout experience more rewarding, like encouraging shoppers to think the extra effort involved in self-checkout is a rewarding experience,” said Huang. “Doing so offers retailers a solution to improve their self-checkout customers’ overall shopping experience, which in turn will facilitate higher customer loyalty.”
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