self checkout machine
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 8, 2021 ·  4 min read

Say Goodbye To Cashiers: Walmart Store Switches To Self-Checkout Only

Whether you’re shopping at the grocery store or picking up McDonald’s on the way home, you can choose to see a cashier or simply go through the self-checkout. Walmart, however, may be moving toward a future where that choice is made for you. Starting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the company is experimenting with a self-checkout-only model. If it goes well, more locations may make the switch.

Walmart Might Switch To All Self-Checkout

A Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas is testing using self-checkout machines only. Instead of cashiers, there will be self-checkout hosts at the front of the store to assist customers and even check out customer’s groceries for them, if they wish.

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If this experiment is successful, the company says it will roll this out in stores across the country. They did not give a timeline as to when this will happen, but we do know it will depend on several factors, including input from employees and customers.

Walmart representatives say that they want this process to be as easy as possible for both customers and associates.

Cutting Costs

Self-checkout machines have become popular at many retailers across the country for one reason: cost savings. Having customers do some of the work that would normally be done by a paid employee cuts down overhead costs.

For example, a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that it costs about three dollars to check someone in at an airport at a staffed desk. When a customer uses an electronic terminal, that cost drops down to just fourteen cents.

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The customer, however, does not often see these savings on their end.

Advocates for self-checkout machines also argue that many customers enjoy the privacy and autonomy that they provide. Christina Forest, a senior project manager for Fujitsu, which makes self-checkout machines, says that some people like to be in control of what’s going on and have a more private experience.

“if I’m going in and buying something that’s maybe a personal item, I might prefer to buy it on my own without help,” she says.

The Opposition to Self-Checkout

Despite some of the positives, there is a growing number of people who don’t like using self-checkout machines. Some customers are beginning to resent doing “unpaid work”. 

Many customers find the automated machines difficult to use and end up asking for help anyway. With typically only one or two workers for sometimes half a dozen or more machines, self-checkout ends up taking much longer.

Others are concerned about putting cashiers out of work.

The cashiers need the jobs,” said a customer interviewed by CBC.

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Walmart Says Their New Self-Checkout Will Improve Customer Experience

On their website, Walmart explains the new system as a “full check-out experience”. There will be a greeter at the entrance to the self-checkout area and employees to help them through the entire process.

Walmart says this new style of cashing out will be more personal, not less.

By nature, individual lanes make the checkout experience transactional, but being face-to-face, the interaction becomes a relationship. We want to make it a personal experience.” says John Crecelius, Senior Vice President of Walmart U.S. Innovations Development.

A Positive Employee Experience

According to Fayetteville Store Manager Carl Morris, the new layout seems to be having a positive effect on the employees and their customer service. Now out from behind a cash register, they are less focused on speed and more focused on each customers’ needs.

“We will go to any register, and we will help you in any fashion you want, whether it’s checking out one item or all the items. Any questions you have, we’re right there for you,” Morris said.

The new much more open-concept layout of 34 self-checkout machines is always open and much more adaptable to changes in customer flow than the traditional lanes. There are no more problems due to lack of staff when a normally quiet time suddenly becomes busy.

So far, employees freed from the confines of a check-out lane at the Fayetteville location are happier at work, more productive, and working together more.

“Now they [the checkout associates] get to run returns out to the store. They get to go to produce and bring someone a fresh apple that’s not bruised,” says front end team lead Matt Downing said. “They feel like they are a part of the store now.”

So while we don’t know yet if every Walmart in the country will switch to this model, one thing is for certain: Self-checkout machines are here to stay.

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