Magazine article Marketing

Ringing Up the Changes

Magazine article Marketing

Ringing Up the Changes

Article excerpt

Tesco is bucking industry opinion by trialling a solely self-checkout supermarket.

For most consumers, the store checkout is their key point of interaction with retail brands. This is why Tesco caused a media stir last month when it became the first supermarket to operate a branch using only self-service checkouts, in a trial aimed at improving efficiency.

While it may reduce staff costs and arguably cut the amount of time customers spend queuing, the experiment raises the question of whether the removal of staff-operated tills may be detrimental to service levels and shoppers' experience of the brand.

A spokesman for the retailer says that the trial, which is taking place at a Tesco Express in Kingsley, Northampton, is intended to discover whether more self-service checkouts provide a better service in smaller stores. He claims that the same number of staff will be working in the store, but it has been reported that only one will supervise all five self-serve checkouts.

The use of technology can improve the in-store experience, and self-service checkouts have greatly improved since they were introduced about five years ago. However, Alasdair Lennox, 3D design director at branding agency and retail design specialist Fitch, points out that the technology is still not 'bomb-proof', so scrapping all manned till points in a store is brave. Many brands, he adds, would not have the confidence to do it.

Customer experience

This may be true. Sainsbury's, for example, says it would never introduce a store with solely self-service checkouts and Asda that it cannot envisage this situation. Waitrose, which offers self-scanning, but not self-service checkouts, argues that, as it prides itself on its high levels of customer service, a fully self-service supermarket is not a format it would pursue. The suggestion is, therefore, that Tesco's difference in positioning on this issue may show a lack of concern for its customer shopping experience.

Orit Peleg, shopper marketing planning director at OgilvyAction, points out that while self-service checkouts can attract digitally savvy new shoppers to whom time is the most important currency, other retailers, including Zara and John Lewis, have increased their focus on human interaction to differentiate themselves in the recession. …

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