Grocery cart | Self-Service Payments: The Unloved Old

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Self-service payments have always been unpopular with retail.

Sylvain Charlebois

Sylvain Charlebois
Special Collaboration, Senior Director, Laboratory of Agro-Food Analytical Sciences, Dalhousie University

Officially, the popularity of self-service payments in the supermarket exceeds that of traditional payments with a cashier. The pandemic has changed many things, but are consumers really benefiting from the technologies available at the grocery store?

Posted yesterday at 7:30am

Self-service payments have always been unpopular with retail. Nothing worked as it should, especially not at the grocery store, where ordering 20 items had its share of mistakes. Even if the use of the self-checkout service bothered many, from now on, that is no longer the case.

Less than a year ago, one of our studies indicated that for the first time, self-service payments became the preferred option for customers to leave the supermarket. At least 53.2% of Canadians identified as intending to use the self-checkout service regularly in the future. On the youth side, 60.1% of Gen Zers (born between 1997 and 2005) and Millennials (born in 1981 and 1996) planned to use cashierless payments more. Before the pandemic, in 2019, according to CivicScience, only 19% of customers aged 55 or older felt willing to use the self-pay system, compared to 35% of customers aged 35-54.

At the time, money changers remained the preferred choice for all population groups. Consumers loved to hate these machines. Today, things have changed a lot.

Finally, self-service payments are now more popular than ever, even surpassing processed checkouts. According to one of our surveys, in partnership with Caddle Analytics at the beginning of May, 75% of Canadians had used the self-checkout feature while visiting the supermarket at least once in the past six months. Even better, 85.1% of Canadians said they were satisfied with their experience. In addition, 47% of Canadians said they would be willing to visit a supermarket where all purchases are captured by digital sensors that allow consumers to add whatever they want to their shopping cart and leave the premises without going through a box.

Technology dwindles in the way of consumers looking for a quick visit to the supermarket, with little or no connectivity. Once we make our choices, few of us like to wait in line to pay. Some want to chat and socialize, of course, but many just want to settle their affairs as quickly as possible and then socialize somewhere else. There is nothing wrong with that either.

During the pandemic, cashiers were considered heroes and everyone wished for a raise. Large chains have been criticized by our elected officials for abandoning some compensation programs that have provided employees with better conditions. However, it is still difficult to recruit employees to do this work, especially in this period of labor shortage. Automation and robotics are becoming more and more important in the agri-food sector, especially in restaurants and retail.

The labor market is changing and workers in this sector will perform various more complex tasks and jobs that require advanced knowledge and skills. Gone are the days of hiring employees for repetitive tasks.

In short, machines replace jobs that no one wants to do.

By doing this, we are asking customers to do more of the work, without compensation. Financial institutions have achieved a major transformation decades ago with the use of ATMs. At the time, customers were asked to do more with a pledge to reduce bank fees. We now know that the exact opposite has happened.

Unlike banks, the work that is done in the supermarket is a matter of food safety. If self-service payments offer higher prices in the future, no one will be pleased. Perhaps we should tax companies that choose the kind of technology that directly affects consumers. Or, at least, why not offer a reward for using these machines? If consumers have to do more work with each visit to the store, they must necessarily benefit from it in one way or another. It is a sophisticated social contract.

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