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What do shoppers really think about self checkout kiosks?

Self checkout was billed as a revolution in retail—a way for shoppers to save time, avoid long lines and, possibly, see lower prices. There is a big question as to the accuracy of those claims.

Depending on the retail sector, the shopper and the purchase, self checkout is a boon or a bane—possibly both. The self-checkout concept has been around in some form for 40-plus years, but the practice has accelerated in the last five years. In 2020, 29% of transactions at food retailers were processed through self-checkout, up from 23% the year prior, according to the latest data from food industry association, FMI, CNN wrote back in 2022.

TruRating, a customer experience and insights company with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, has completed a study of perceptions about self-checkout and wrote a subsequent report on its findings. Based on verified customer feedback in the real world, the study gives an accurate snapshot of why shoppers use self checkout and when.

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1. Ease of Use: “Was it easy to check out today?”

“There has been a move in more and more retailers to implement self-checkout options to try to increase throughput at the point of payment and also to reduce labor costs and shortages,” said Gareth Johns, chief data officer at TruRating. “The preferences and experiences of customers hasn’t been the main driver for this move and there has been little research into how customers feel about this major shift in their shopping experience.”

[Read more: Industry, check]

By all measures, self checkout is growing exponentially. “While originally a grocery innovation, self-checkout stations are now commonly found in stores of all sizes and verticals,” TruRating said in the report. “These machines are now so ubiquitous a part of the modern retail experience, that few seem to challenge the thinking behind them—in fact, the global market for self- checkout is projected to grow from $4.51 billion in 2022 to $12.01 billion in 2029.”

The general consensus among responders is that there is a time and place for self-checkout, Johns says. Customers “welcome it as an option when it comes to payment, but they don’t want it to be the only or the default option, which too often it is. Also, most customers are just after a quicker way to pay, so if self-checkout doesn’t make payment quicker and easier for them then this move isn’t in their favor.”

Key Takeaways

  • Shorter wait time is the most important driver in making any type of check out experience ‘easy.’
  • Perceptions of checkout ease vary by sector, with manned checkouts often preferred. Considerations beyond technology, such as wait times and active terminal count, can affect these perceptions.
  • Retailers need to balance tech advancements with operational efficiency

Johns said the best model for retailers is to offer both self check out and human-operated registers in their store, and then manage the balance to minimize total wait time. 

There was not much difference in sentiments about self-checkout among different demographics. Instead, differences were based on the type of store. “The bigger split was much more by sector with the vast majority of customers preferring self-checkout in a convenience store but much less so in fashion, apparel or other general retail,” Johns said.

Finally, the general message retailers should take from the study, Johns said, is to refrain from moving wholesale to self-checkout: give customers the option of both self-checkout and cashier checkout. “Also, don’t think that a move to assisted checkout is the answer, as what that actually means is that the store manager or member of staff decides on the checkout experience a customer has, not the customer themselves.”

2. Preferred Checkout: “Which checkout experience do you generally prefer?”

The preference for self-checkout differs considerably by sector—while convenience customers are less likely to report their checkout experience as easy, 70% would still prefer to use self-checkout. For retailers in apparel, this preference for self-checkout dropped to just 25%.

The fewer the number of items in the basket the higher the preference for self-checkout. But what is interesting is that the tipping point at which more than 50% of customers prefer assistance was in one convenience retailer as low as just four items in the basket.

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Key Takeaways

  • Self-checkout rules in the convenience sector.
  • Number of items in the basket have a direct impact on lane selection—know your tipping point.
  • Retailers need to ensure that self-checkout supports at least a full basket of shopping with room for growth.

In general retail—where transactions tend to be more service orientated and speed of checkout is less important—we see that staffed checkout is the preferred option overall. What is interesting is that even for customers who end up using a self-checkout option in this vertical, 40% still report a preference for staffed checkout lanes.


While customers are mostly happy with the ease of the checkout experience, there are a wide range of factors that influence preference for manned vs. self-checkout, including sector, type of purchase, and queue time. All need to be considered when evaluating a successful purchasing journey.

[Read more: Industry in transition]

Understanding what pushes a consumer’s checkout preference is critical. Be sure to take into account a variety of factors, including basket size, checkout space accommodations and average queue times, to name a few.

3. Why SCO?: “Why did you use self-checkout today?”

Over 45% of the customers using self-checkout said their main reason for choosing to self-checkout was because they felt they had no other option.

Key Takeaways

  • Two thirds of customers choose self checkout because they think it will be the quickest way to complete checkout.
  • Deploying self-checkout can free up staff to spend more time on the shop floor improving other parts of the shopping experience for customers.
  • Self checkout can remove the only piece of interaction with staff for many customers and have a knock on impact on their spend and basket size.

Additional Data: 

  • One size does not fit all.
  • Customers value having a choice in their checkout options.
  • Concern is increasing over ‘blurred’ assisted checkouts where staff, instead of customers, dictate the assistance level.
  • Despite retailers providing both self-checkout and staffed options, many customers feel self-checkout is their only choice, revealing a disconnect.
  • Perceived benefits: “What do you like best about self-checkout?”
  • The majority of customers responded that less wait time was the key immediate benefit of using a self-checkout terminal.
  • While this is an indirect and less obvious benefit of checkout automation it is one that customers at one of the retailers that use TruRating have still noticed. Perception of these other factors in the stores that rolled out self-checkout terminals was considerably higher than stores without self-checkout. These differences were, however, limited to the busy shopping period between Black Friday and Christmas when stores with staff on checkout duty struggled to complete these other tasks.
  • While this example shows there are positive benefits to checkout automation, the removal of a guaranteed staff interaction with customers can potentially have a negative impact. One retailer TruRating worked with saw that the move to automated checkout reduced the likelihood that customers were greeted by staff from 70% to less than 50%. For most retailers TruRating works with, the company said it has proven greeting customers not only provides an improvement in the customers’ overall experience but correlates to an increase in the average number of items in the shopping basket.
  • While self-checkout may allow staff to delegate tasks at checkout to automation, this does not mean they should abdicate their duty to serve customers more generally within the store.

A Final Word

“We all know that the direction of travel for the retail industry, particularly in high volume sectors like grocery, is going to be toward more and more automation. The aim of providing a quicker and more frictionless checkout experience for the customer, in a way that is also cost effective for retailers—should be a win-win.

“However exactly how this journey evolves toward an increasingly automated future is one that will be a key concern for customers. “Retailers need to think holistically about making the full end-to-end shopping experience as enjoyable and as easy as possible. This includes everything from the minute the customer enters the store. It certainly includes the time that customers spend waiting to get to checkout—and then of course the time spent at that till actually checking out.

“They’ll need to think about the types of customer in a given store and the number of items they are likely purchasing in a single trip. Are self-checkout terminals set up to meet those customer needs? What message does it send to customers if they have to wait to receive assistance or stand in line while self-checkout terminals remain out of order or turned off.

“The checkout is almost always the final experience the customer has before leaving the store. It is the thing they are most likely to remember and it can leave a lasting impression.

“Self-checkout is not for everyone—the best retailers will make sure they proactively offer an alternative checkout experience and that all customers are aware those options are available.

“Provide an appropriate choice of checkout experience for every shopper type and shopper journey—and customers will leave happy.”

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