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    Supermarkets Rethink Value of Self-Checkout Lanes

    Several grocers are considering replacing self-checkout with traditional employee-manned lanes or new technologies.

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Ten years ago, self-checkout lanes were one of the hottest technologies to hit the supermarket industry, and the convenience store channel was thought to be the next frontier.

    Not so fast. Supermarkets are now reconsidering the value of self-checkout. Beginning this month, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons LLC is removing the self-checkout lanes in all 217 of its stores in seven states, including Texas, the Dallas Morning News reported.

    Self-checkout no longer fits with the customer-service experience it wants to provide. "Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave," spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said.

    When Albertsons installed self-checkout lanes nearly a decade ago, "it was in response to a growing trend in retail for stores to be even more self-service" than ever before, said Wilcox. Albertsons LLC is now replacing the self-checkout lanes with regular lanes and opening more staffed lanes during peak shopping hours, the newspaper report stated.

    Albertsons LLC is a separate entity from the 460 Albertsons stores that Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc. owns and operates in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Southern California, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Spokeswoman Lilia Rodriguez said Supervalu is not removing self check-out lanes from its Albertsons stores.

    "Despite many incorrect reports, Albertsons stores owned by Supervalu will continue to operate self check-out lanes," she said. "Since this story broke last week, our customers have called us and we learned firsthand that they want and appreciate the convenience of self check-out lanes."

    However, Lee Holman, lead retail analyst with IHL Group, told The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., that all retailers are evaluating "what they want to be about. Albertsons … wants to get back to where customers want to deal with a checker; have that face-to-face interaction," he told the newspaper. "That's certainly one of the things, as we've studied self-checkouts in the industry, that some retailers don't want to embrace self-checkout because they don't want to lose that [human interaction]."

    Bob Young, managing director of the Weitzman Group, manager of several grocery-anchored centers, told the Dallas Morning News, "Customer service and the personal touch is a prevailing theme today."

    Kroger is another supermarket chain debating self-checkout's merits. According to the Dallas newspaper, the supermarket chain eliminated self-checkout lanes at a high-traffic store in Houston. "This isn't a test," said Gary Huddleston, a spokesman for Kroger. "We are looking at each and every store as we remodel to determine which checkout looks best."

    Kroger has another possible solution, called metro lanes. According to Huddleston, metro lanes check out customers after an average wait time of five to 20 seconds. He told the Omaha-Neb.-based World-Herald that the system helps shoppers avoid getting stuck in slower lanes or behind those having difficulty with the self-checkout process.

    Another alternative to the self-checkout lane is automated scanning technology in which shoppers put their items on a conveyor belt and the items are scanned while moving through a tunnel, the Omaha newspaper reported.

    While a handful of convenience store retailers have been considering self-checkout lanes, the first to fully launch the technology was Quick Chek. (Look for the Aug. 15 issue of Convenience Store News to read "A Day in the Life with Chris Dwyer," the man behind Quick Chek's self-checkout program.)

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