Retailers use Self-Service Technology (SST) to make shopping for their customers more convenient. Some retailers even offer a smartphone app that lets customers scan items as they shop. “They pay on their phone, skipping the physical checkout counter entirely” writes Lauren Zumbach, recently in Phys.Org. Is self-checkout a time-saver for customers, or is it just another gadget that can go wrong, or is not understood nor trusted by customers?
SST has been introduced to Bricks and Mortar shops to match the convenience of online shoppers that never have to wait in a line 1. When last did you spend time at a checkout in a retail store? Have a look at this video just to remind you what it is all about! Looking at the long lines at a Walmart store on Black Friday, 27 November 2009, (Recorded by Maria S) one hopes that a self-checkout system will make things better.
So, where are we now with SST?
Self-Service Technology in retail shops
SST is technological interfaces that allow customers to produce services independent of involvement of direct service employees. In other words, the technology replaces many of the face-to-face interaction that customers usually have with retail employees. Retailers make use of SST to reduce costs, increase efficiency, flexibility, productivity and improved corporate performance 2. “The technology empowers customers to be in control of their shopping experience, while effectively reducing lines, cart abandonment and the time associates need to spend at checkout” writes Rebecca Minkoff in Apparel.
While SST is used at an increasing rate by retailers, there are some issues emerging.
The demographics of SST users
The age and gender may influence the use of SST by the customers of retailers.
- Age – Orel and Kadar 2 found that younger customers had higher tendencies to use self-checkout systems during their shopping in supermarkets. These consumers were also savvy with internet and technology use. Lee and Yang 3, on the other hand, suggest that old consumers tend to feel that they are not competent to learn new things. Also, they enjoy interacting with other people such as store employees, service agents, and fellow shoppers. Therefor older people are less likely to adopt new service options such as SSTs.
- Gender – men have more negative wait expectations than women 4. That means that if the lines at retail checkouts are too long, or move too slowly, men are more likely than women to leave the shop. Men may want to maximize the efficiency of their shopping trip by using SST. Women prefer doing their shopping with a minimum amount of external distraction, such as using a cumbersome SST 5.
Another issue with the use of SST by retailers is about the atmosphere of the shop.
The atmosphere of the shop
Store atmosphere is the physical characteristics of a retail store used to create an image in order to attract customers. Creating the ‘right’ atmosphere for your shop is more important than ever because of challenges from online retail. Shari Waters writes the following in The Balance: “If you’re thinking about opening up a business of any kind, it’s imperative that you remember the role that store atmosphere can play in its success. Customers not only care about how a store looks and feel; they’re also likely to make purchasing decisions based on the ambiance of the establishments they patronize.” But what effect does SST have on a shop’s atmosphere?
SST may have the following effects on the atmosphere of retail shops:
- Customers receiving less attention from retail employees may affect the shop’s atmosphere negatively;
- SST may lower the shop’s customer density which may be perceived as an improvement of the atmosphere 4;
- Old consumers tend to feel that they are not competent to learn new things due to their information processing deficiencies 3. They may therefore create an ‘atmosphere’ of chaos in the shop as they seek assistance with SST, which is probably not there…
In spite of the issues around SST, the implementation thereof is growing globally.
The future of self-service technology
The swiftly growing retail industry has been witnessing the fastest adoption of the self-checkout terminals. According to Technavio reported in BusinessWire, the forecast is for the global retail self-checkout terminals market to grow at almost 18% during 2017-2021. Amazon.com has also put its trust in SST. Thabiso Mochiko of the Financial Mail quotes Amazon as follows: “Amazon Go is a shopper’s dream. It eliminates the drudgery of queuing at a till. The company’s “Just Walk Out” technology automatically detects when products are removed from or even returned to shop shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’ve completed your shopping, you leave the shop and are charged electronically.”
It seems that nothing is going to stop the use of SST in our shops…
So, how do customers respond to self-service technology in retail shops? It is like this – nowadays people are getting older and the younger ones are tech savvy in a digital world. The older people go shopping not only to buy groceries, but most importantly to interact with people in the shop. They may be retired, living alone and miss socializing with people. Also they are not always tech savvy therefore may resist using SST. Young people, on the other hand, are tech savvy ‘by excellence’ and enjoy SST as a ‘game’ – something that should be there. And gender? Have a peek of my blog post “The Shopping Behavior of Woman”.
However, as it concerns self-service technology, men love SST if it can get them out of the shop as soon as possible. Women, in contrast, may ignore SST as long as possible because it may reduce their shopping time. Maybe the image below will illustrate my last point.
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1 Bednarz, M. and Ponder, N. 2010. Perceptions of retail convenience for in-store and online shoppers. Marketing Management Journal, p49.
2 Orel, F.D. and Kara, A. 2014. Supermarket self-checkout service quality, customer satisfaction, and loyalty: Empirical evidence from an emerging market. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 21(2):118-129.
3 Lee, H.J. and Yang, K. 2013. Interpersonal service quality, self-service technology (SST) service quality, and retail patronage. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 20(1):51-57.
4 Grewal, D., Baker, J., Levy, M. and Voss, G.B. 2003. The effects of wait expectations and store atmosphere evaluations on patronage intentions in service-intensive retail stores. Journal of retailing, 79(4):259-268.
5 Rinta-Kahila, T. 2013. The adoption of retail self-service checkout systems-An empirical study examining the link between intention to use and actual use. Department of Information and Service Economy, Aalto University School of Business.