May 18, 2021

Supermarket self-checkout: essential for safety, embraced for convenience

Supermarket self-checkout: essential for safety, embraced for convenience

Prior to the pandemic, self-checkout (SCO) in food retailing was already becoming popular. Over the past year it has grown rapidly out of the urgent need to limit person-to-person contact. With pandemic restrictions starting to ease in many regions, you might expect a reset to early 2020. On the contrary. Now that grocery shoppers have learned how convenient it is to check out autonomously, they’re clamouring for increased SCO adoption.

Convenience is key
In October 2020, the National Retail Federation (NRF) polled 2,949 adults in the US to learn how convenience shapes shopper behaviour and what it could mean for the future of retail. The report found that as time for family, work or school becomes more and more precious, convenience increasingly makes a difference. So naturally, people are looking to their food retailer to save them both effort and time.

For example, 83% of respondents claimed that convenience while shopping is more important now than five years ago. And 97% said they had backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient.

This attitude is especially apparent when it comes to everyday purchases, with grocery shopping at the top of the list. When asked to rate the value of convenience, 63% said it was “very important” when shopping for groceries – significantly above the other categories (clothing, electronics, personal care and pet supplies). Respondents were even willing to pay more for convenience, again putting grocery shopping on top at 66%.

Especially at checkout
Where consumers experience convenience on their purchasing path also matters. The survey found that the checkout step is where shoppers find convenience most important.

The NRF report revealed that 9 in 10 shoppers are “more likely” to choose a retailer based on convenience. Moreover, they would like retailers to do even more to save them time and effort, with 55% of those polled asking for simpler checkout.

SCO: a widespread trend
We see a similar quest for convenience in Europe. In September 2020, McKinsey surveyed 5,338 adults in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the UK, sampled and weighted to match the general European population. The study found that of those who started using self-checkout technology during the pandemic crisis, 82% said they intended to keep using it.

This is remarkably close to the American figure of 83%, reinforcing the view that SCO is very much here to stay. To be ready for this rapidly shifting customer behaviour, food retailers need to have the proper SCO architecture. One that is adaptable, allowing the most flexible shopping experience possible.

McKinsey’s big takeaway? “For retailers, this means that investments in new checkout technology could pay off quickly.”