The number of UK stores with self-checkouts is expected to double in the next three years. But will this service strategy benefit shoppers or is it all about the retailers’ bottom lines?

The number of UK stores with self-checkouts is expected to double in the next three years. But will this service strategy benefit shoppers or is it all about the retailers’ bottom lines?

Self-service is back in fashion, according to a just-released report from Planet Retail.

The Planet Retail report predicts that the number of stores with self-checkouts worldwide will have tripled by the end of 2013; and as part of this growth, the UK will see stores with self-checkouts double by late 2012.

After an early push in the US and UK for the first generation devices, a second wave of deployments are predicted. Retailers who have introduced the technology already, such as Tesco, are expected to expand their usage, and others such as Morrisons are deploying them for the first time.

When self-checkouts first hit stores in the UK, retailers tried to say that they would cut queues, and wouldn’t lead to job cuts. But privately, checkout suppliers admit that they do take longer to use, and the business case for deploying them nearly always includes an element of reduction in staffing costs.

Take my colleague John Ryan’s recent experience of self-checkout in B&Q. He found it difficult to use and thought it took longer than if he had queued up at the tills. But for a business like B&Q it makes financial sense and can be achieved without the customer loosing out.

Self-checkouts will never replace manned tills entirely in stores like B&Q. But if you want to buy a couple of small purchases, then it can allow you to bypass people like John buying products that weigh more than they do. Retailers just need to be a bit more honest with bulk-buying customers that self-checkouts won’t be quicker for them (and probably direct them to a traditional till).

And as B&Q is embracing the multichannel age with its expanding click and collect initiative, so it needs to free up staff to deal with this. As more stores find themselves becoming fulfilment operations for online orders it is crucial that they get self-checkout technology working or they will find staffing numbers need to go through the roof.