Self-checkout at retail locations... specifically big box stores... has been a hot topic recently. As quickly as self-checkout registers were implemented, now appear to be going in the other direction.

It's no surprise to many that one of the benefits of self-checkout at a busy big-box retail location is having to rely less on staff. Instead of having six registers open with six cashiers, you could operate all six with just one associate.

With the customer now doing the job of the cashier, the need for that extra associate is no longer necessary. All the retailer needs to do is assign one store associate to the group of self-checkout registers to help out should the customer run into any issues.

Customers for the most part embraced the change and wanted to check themselves out without the need of having to interact with a store employee. And for a while, everything seemed to run smoothly.

Target - Getty Images
Target - Getty Images


But it didn't take long to expose the vulnerabilities of relying heavily on self-checkout. One such issue was theft.

It got so bad in some big-box locations that the losses from theft at the self-checkout lanes surpassed the benefits of saving on labor managing the registers. It's one of the reasons why many retailers are now limiting the amounts you're allowed to check out on your own.

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With that said the reasoning behind the new Target policy at their self-checkout lanes doesn't have to do with theft. Although that's definitely a concern, the actual reason for this policy change has more to do with their average everyday customers, along with existing technology.

Flagger directing traffic, holding "Slow" sign
314, Getty Stock / ThinkStock

Slow speeds

According to ABC 6 Action News, "Shoppers have grown frustrated with self-checkout systems that can be slow and unreliable." Combine that with customers being confused about how to ring up certain items, and it creates long waits at the register.

Think about how often someone's at a self-checkout lane and suddenly they have to stop and wait for an associate. Sometimes, the customer doesn't even know why their register flagged them.

And once the register is flagged, the wait for an associate to come over and assist can take up to a minute or more. That time is how much longer the next customer must now wait to use that register.

Now, what if multiple registers are flagging at the same time, or continuously flagging again and again on the same customer? That's exactly what causes such frustrating delays and long lines at self-checkout.

Speed / Express self-checkout

Express self-checkout

Target's solution to this is to significantly limit all self-checkout lanes to 10 items or less and make them all exclusively express self-checkout lanes. Not only would this speed up the checkout process, but it also helps keep a closer eye on potential theft, another big issue at self-checkout lanes.

To balance that out, Target said it would have more staffed checkout lanes for customers who have more than 10 items. Simply put, self-checkout will now be dedicated to express service only.

This policy change should help stores located all throughout New Jersey that often see very long self-checkout lines stretching well beyond the registers. With more dedicated cashiers firmly back in control, along with more open registers, it'll certainly help speed up the process.

Target in Jersey City (Google Maps)
Target in Jersey City (Google Maps)


No doubt there'll be pushback since some customers prefer not having that interaction with a cashier at checkout. But at the same time, those very same customers have complained about the long waits and glitchy checkout process doing it themselves.

Yes, some won't be happy being forced to go back to a traditional register, but they'll be able to get out of the store much more quickly as a result. Also to note, customers aren't trained to handle when situations come up at a register.

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When the lone associate is tied up, it forces longer waits on everyone else. So yes, there will be pushback, but Target's customers will adapt to the new checkout policy.


More to follow

As mentioned above, retailers all over the Garden State have already started limiting items at self-checkouts in an effort to curb theft. However, the speed of checkout is also a concern, especially with large quantities.

Not only is Target moving the needle in the right direction, but all retailers in New Jersey should take note and consider similar policy changes. They may not be popular at first, but they help address multiple issues that occur with self-checkout.

Target's new express self-checkout policy takes effect on Sunday, March 17, 2024.

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The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 Sunday morning host Mike Brant. Any opinions expressed are his own.

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