A Travelogue For Self-Checkout

Is self-checkout technology really going anywhere in retail?

Although it has proven to be an opportunity for growth in the brick-and-mortar space — expected to be a source of $2.19 billion in global revenue by 2019 — and vending machine companies seem to be moving ahead with it sufficiently, there are many instances where traditional retailers are not implementing automation to a degree that it offsets rising personnel costs, nor does it — perhaps more importantly — satisfy their customers.

Where might these businesses look for examples of how to optimize their self-checkout offerings?

Turns out that the best such cases might be on display where automated technology is being used to check consumers in: airports and hotels.

As for the latter arena, the latest edition of PYMNTS’ Unattended Retail Tracker explores how the hospitality concept YOTEL, for one, is making strides with its self-service kiosks that allow hotel guests to check in with a QR code, store their luggage and — in a soon-to-be-related feature from the company — order food from onsite automats.

A key aspect of YOTEL’s successful strategy to date has been the fact that the company, as Vice President of Brand Jo Berrington explained to PYMNTS, is being careful to ensure that its technology is not being implemented — as is often otherwise the case with new, shiny toys in commerce — for its own sake but only in ways that it tangibly improves the consumer experience.

The automation that YOTEL applies in the hotel arena, notes Berrington, “frees up the [in-person staff] to be able to help guests with other more important issues and things they want to solve.”

Another company that has built its name on making things easier for consumers — Uber (you might have heard of it) — is itself in the process of applying the paradigm-shifting approach it brought to the ground transportation industry to hotels, having recently added a feature to its namesake app that will allow riders away from home to check into Hilton locations while en route.

While the automated offerings (centered on on-location kiosks and mobile devices, respectively) from YOTEL and Uber are relatively new examples of how traditional retail can greatly benefit from the simplicity offered to consumers by such technology, airports have comparatively been successfully employing similar techniques since forever.

Well, OK — not forever, but since 1995 (which just seems like forever ago in terms of the digital age), which WayfinD notes was the year that Continental Airlines installed the first self-service kiosk in the industry at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The outlet shares that, today, about 80 percent of all airline passengers use some form of self-service check-in during their travels. It’s clear that what the airport industry is doing with automation technology is working … and the story goes on to outline a number of elements of that strategy that could benefit the retail space at large.

First and foremost is the point we’ve already alluded to: New technologies require time to take hold (as exhibited by the fact that it took decades for automated services to become the norm at airports). Accordingly, retailers that may have already implemented some degree of self-checkout need to be patient and understand that the offering could take years for the majority of shoppers to become comfortable with it.

Another potential benefit of self-checkout technology for retail stores that WayfinD points out is that — once customers do get into the habit of using it — it can result in greater consumer loyalty to a particular retail brand.

Although implementing self-checkout services can and does reduce a retailer’s reliance on human staff, to varying degrees, the outlet makes it clear that the technology should not be viewed as a means of doing away with staff altogether. There will always arise instances when consumers will want to interact with retail personnel — be it out of necessity or simply preference — so retailers that implement automated offerings will need to always keep that balance in mind.

Whether they have already put such offerings in place or are on the precipice of doing so, retailers across the board would be best served to remain flexible and open to any new related innovations that come along … but, at the same time, they should not be inclined to leap for any new toy that enters the arena simply because it’s new.

Like all technologies in the retail space, the implementation and operation of self-checkout services — be they in-store or mobile — constitute a continued journey, not a destination.

So, it makes sense, then, that the verticals that are doing well with them so far have to do with travel.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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