Retailers Question the Benefit of Self-Checkout

October 6, 2023

Shoppers have two options when it comes to ringing up their items at the grocery store: pushing their cart to a cashier or opting for a self-checkout kiosk. The latter path became particularly popular during the pandemic when overwhelmed supermarkets sought to keep customers and employees at a distance. Store owners also figured that self-checkout stations would cut down on labor costs as shoppers did the scanning and bagging themselves. Walmart, for instance, retooled its cashier lanes to accommodate more sophisticated kiosks for self-checkout that nevertheless included staff members on hand to help with any issues.

In fact, most grocery stores now place employees at self-checkout stations, potentially undermining any savings on labor costs. Not only do staffers check IDs and inspect receipts, but they must also keep a close eye on customers in order to combat theft. According to one estimate, inventory loss can increase by as much as 60 percent depending on how many self-checkout kiosks are in a store. After all, customers can easily bag an item without first scanning it, either intentionally or unintentionally. Meanwhile, Costco asks its employees to check subscription cards in the self-checkout lane in order to cut down on people sharing memberships, which is the retailer’s main source of profit. 

Along with requiring constant employee supervision, self-checkout kiosks also incur other costs through periodic maintenance and IT support. According to sociologist Christopher Andrews of Drew University, this means that self-checkout “delivers none of what it promises” when it comes to cost and convenience. As a result, Walmart recently announced that it would discontinue self-checkout from at least three stores in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and put traditional cashier lanes in their place. While the retail giant said it “continues to review and adjust its procedures as needed,” the grocery chain Kroger is going in the opposite direction by outfitting one store with only self-checkout kiosks. Still, executives admitted that this would not significantly cut costs since staff would still be on hand to assist with scanning and bagging groceries. 


  1. What are the benefits and drawbacks of self-checkout kiosks?
  2. Do you think more companies should follow Walmart’s lead and get rid of self-checkout? Or would you prefer if stores imitated Kroger and made some locations self-checkout only? Explain your choice. 

Source: Dominick Reuter, “Retailers Appear to Be Facing a Self-Checkout Reckoning,” Insider, October 5, 2023.