On Thursday, my partner and I went to visit Coles to purchase our weekly shop at 7.30pm. A simple task, but unfortunately Coles made it much more complicated than it needed to be. For starters, we are forced to go through a self-service checkout because no other checkouts besides the express lane were open. I casually asked whether more would open, only to be told rudely ‘No!’ In my teens I used to work at a checkout, so I’m accustomed to operating a checkout, and when you have a few items, they can often be quicker than the normal checkouts. However, when you have a week’s worth of shopping, it really isn’t ideal. Not only did we get stares and cop anger from other customers who wanted to use the self service checkouts, we were stuck using a machine that for whatever reason was very temperamental. As a result, we spent more time waiting for a cashier to come and authorise the transaction than actually putting the items through.
As a result of Coles poor customer service, I had a hunt around to see what effect the automatic self checkouts were having on Coles’ bottom line. It was interesting to note that although profitability has increased for the supermarket chain, staffing rates have drastically declined from 113,311 in 2009 to 102,520 staff members in 2011 (that’s a decline of 10,791 or 10% over three years). No wonder why staff are unwilling to help, if they see these machines as their replacements?
We hypothesise however, that self checkouts will result in a decline in profitability over a five or 10 year period, because not only does it result in less security (I’m sure theft is a big issue) for the supermarket, it will also result in changing behaviours of consumers. For instance, as a result of this experience, we no longer shop a week’s worth of shopping at a supermarket. Instead we now do our weekly shop through Aussie Farmers, which is an independently owned, multiple award winning, home delivery food business, so not only do we save time shopping, we also are giving back, which makes us feel good about our purchase decisions. BTW, here is proof to show you how busy Coles was when we were forced to use the self checkout during our very large food shop! As well as proof to show you that hardly any checkouts were open!
The other thing that bugs Vent2Me about Coles supermarkets is their ‘fresh market’ approach, not all stores been rebranded and as a result, some suburbs have more premium Coles supermarkets than others. Why should Coles position itself differently just because of the socio-economic status of the suburb? Shouldn’t all customers be able to access the same quality of fruit and vegetables? This is something we feel strongly against, it should either be one way or the other.
Vent2Me appears to not be the only ones questioning the value of self service checkouts. Earlier this year, an article in the Australian Financial Review found that Woolworths and Coles are cutting back on self-service checkouts in some inner-city supermarkets, finding that it’s still faster and cheaper to employ register operators. Often this takes the form of a single queue system served by multiple registers. So what do you think, do you think self checkouts are on the way out or do you think they are here to stay? Share your good or bad self checkout story with us!
Until next time,
Cents & Sensibility
Julia Taine, Executive Director of Vent2Me, is a marketing problem solver and mentor. A mover and a shaker, Julia sees a niche in an industry, and takes it, by making it her own. Julia started Vent2Me, because people she knew were struggling with their online presence and their digital strategies. Julia knew she could help these people, and so here she is today.