Retail Solutions - Sainsbury's overtakes M&S in race for self-checkout crown

Sainsbury's is aggressively rolling out self-checkout technology in its UK stores as part of its stated strategy to improve customer service.

With the installation of four self-checkout units at Sainsbury's Derby store in late March, the retailer now has 58 outlets with self-checkout technology, while nearest rival Marks & Spencer has 20 units to date.

Self-checkout systems allow consumers to scan their own products as they pack them at the point of sale. Because each bank of four systems needs only one supervisor, critics say retailers will use self-checkout to reduce their head count.

However, Sainsbury's spokes-man Paul Martin refuted this claim. 'It's absolutely not (about making redundancies). Self-checkout gives our staff pool more fluency. The technology isn't much more expensive than the current EPoS systems, and it means we have the capacity to deal with busy periods that can't always be planned for.

'In quieter periods, those staff can be moved to their normal duties and the self-checkout systems will cope with customers,' he said.

Sainsbury's began installing self-checkouts in November last year, with a bank of four units at its Finchley branch.

By December, 28 outlets had self-checkout systems, and a further 30 have been added this year.

The retailer also created what it describes as 'the world's biggest vending machine' at its Heaton Park outlet in Manchester - a fully automated store designed for shoppers who aim to buy a few items at a time.

'We wouldn't have done this if customer response had not been so positive,' said Martin.

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