A US retailer has called time on self-service checkouts, but is this the right thing and will there come a point when we embrace the potential speed that DIY transactions offer?

News that US grocery and pharmacy retailer Albertsons has pulled the plug on its self-service checkouts should hardly come as a surprise. The reason given was that the self-service checkouts prevent the retailer from providing the level of service that it wants to offer its shoppers. Cutting out the corporate speak, this probably means that self-service has been rejected by Albertsons shoppers.

Now come back from Boise, Idaho, (where Albertsons has its headquarters) and think of your local food retailer, be it Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or, of course, Waitrose. In the convenience formats that all of these have, to some degree, begun rolling out, there is usually a bank of self-service checkouts. And more often than not, there will be a queue of people waiting to pay at manned tills as a number of the selfsame self-service checkouts linger unused.

Reactions vary, with some accepting self-service as a facet of modern supermarket retailing while others wonder what’s the point if they’re not being used. In fairness, they do come in handy when it’s lunchtime and you’re in a hurry, but there again they frequently require the services of a member of staff as warnings such as “unauthorised item in bagging area” cause the process to grind to a halt.

The question you have to ask is whether there will ever come a point when the default position will be to head for the self-service checkout instead of the manned till and at the moment that still seems some way off.

On a totally related note, a story is doing the rounds that French sports retailer Decathlon is set to raise its game in the UK with up to four new stores this year. If this is the case, it will be the triumph of selection and service over any form of store design. Decathlon staff really know their stuff and are generally incredibly helpful. The stores they work in are, bluntly, functional - you might as well be in an aircraft hanger. That said, unlike many, you normally emerge from a Decathlon store with a purchase and often not the item you went in for. Store design and experience certainly matter, but as rival Sports Direct knows, selection and choice have to come first, although Decathlon seems to be over the finishing line when it comes to service with far greater frequency than its rival. At what point will design, service and selection come together in a single arena when it comes to sports retailing? Just a thought.