Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Losing Weight at the Checkout

I'm not a big fan of self-checkout. The main reason being that it often takes longer than if I had gone the old-fashioned route and waited in line. My last experience, a week back at my local A&P, was fairly typical. After scanning all my items and putting them in the bag, the machine wouldn't accept my credit card.

“Oh, something is wrong with that machine and it isn't taking credit cards,” a young clerk shouted across the way. “If you want to pay by credit, you have to go to a regular checkout lane and start all over.”

I was steamed, and I made a vow right there on the spot to stop scanning items myself. Just the week before, I had used cash at another self-checkout and while the transaction went through, my change failed to materialize. The person charged with overseeing the stations seemed annoyed when I asked her for help, and gave me my change almost begrudgingly. She acted as if I had done something wrong, which is how I feel most of the time when there is a glitch with these devices.

A recent survey by IHL Consulting Group, Franklin, Tenn., suggests that I'm in the minority when it comes to self-checkouts. It points out that more and more consumers are going the self-checkout route, noting that in 2006, consumers spent more than $137 billion on self-checkout transactions, up 24% from the previous year.

Some other interesting bits from the survey: Consumers in the South are most positive about self-checkout, with 75% having a positive view about the technology; and Of those who used self-checkout at least six times, 86% have a positive view of the technology.

There are a few findings that should make retailers think twice. For example, impulse purchases dip 32.1% when self-checkout is used instead of a staffed checkout. The primary reason for the drop: self-checkout stations lack the merchandise displays of staffed lanes, which means you don't have a chance to grab that candy bar or bag of chips you really didn't need but which proved too tempting to resist.

All this leads me to what I consider the most fascinating (albeit ancillary) finding out of the survey: The average American woman could lose 4.1 lbs. a year simply by resisting the urge to purchase impulse items in the checkout line.

Umm. I don't know. I may have to reconsider my ban on self-checkouts. Four pounds a year is simply to good to pass up.

—Marianne Wilson

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