Is Self-Checkout the Problem or the Solution?

Retailers from High’s and Refuel share opposing opinions at Convenience Retailing University
High's and Refuel
Photograph by W. Scott Mitchell

Convenience-store retailers have mixed opinions on self-checkout. Some, like Refuel Operating Co., are pulling the technology out of stores, while other chains, like High’s of Baltimore, are continuing to invest.

Thirty-three percent of convenience-store shoppers prefer self-checkout, according to Skip, a cloud point-of-sale (POS) provider with a suite of checkout apps for retailers and shoppers.

“I personally love self-checkouts,” Noah Sanders, director of retail technology at High’s, a unit of Carroll Independent Fuel, Baltimore, said at CSP's Convenience Retailing University in February. “I think the ones that we have in our stores work better than our traditional [point of sale]. It’s faster, cleaner and the customers have full control over their transactions. They’re in and out quickly.”

  • Refuel is No. 40 on CSP’s 2023 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by store count. Carroll Independent Fuel is No. 119.

Loyalty is instantaneous, he said, and High’s has experienced labor savings.

“We started moving them to our front checkouts, and we’re seeing upwards of 30% at some of our locations in terms of transaction,” Sanders said.

High’s has demonstrated 66% transaction growth year to date with the Skip platform without adding new stores.

Carmi, Illinois-based Martin & Bayley's convenience-store chain Huck’s, which also uses Skip, reported a 194% increase in transactions year to date since introducing Skip’s self-checkout kiosks and expanded the option to 15 additional stores, Skip said.

Obstacles such as shrink and consumer resistance are deterring retailers from self-checkout, however.

“Self-checkout for us has been an interesting journey,” said Justin Mitchell, vice president of information technology at Refuel Operating Co. LLC, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “We’re pulling all of [our self-checkout] out currently.”

One of the biggest reasons for the decision is that customers don’t use it, he said, even with a lot of work around queuing lanes to drive people in the right way.

“Once in a while someone, will break off and hit the self-checkout, but primarily they’re waiting [in line]—they want the interaction,” Mitchell said. “I think people with age-verification products are hesitant to go to self-checkout because they don’t want to mess it up. For us, we felt like we wanted to step back and get the customer service aspect right as we talked about what we’re trying to build. Self-checkout was on the edge and wasn’t worth our focus.”

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