Shoprite has made it crystal clear that human-driven full-service checkouts have returned to its northern Delaware stores by announcing the move in its weekly ad circular.
Unlike its competitors, the Kenny family chain – a Wakefern grocery cooperative member – pretty much eliminated full-service checkout lines a couple of years ago. The stores also added hybrid checkouts that could be converted to self-serve and vice versa but bore no resemblance to past lanes. For some, the change was jarring.
By contrast, competitors kept a few checkout lines open. Going all in on self-check was never fully explained, although a contributing factor was the grocery industry struggling to find workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lack of human checkers drew heat from the get-go, especially from those of us getting up in years, with many vowing on social media never to return. Younger and more tech-savvy people were more forgiving.
Self-check falls short of perfection, although many of the bugs have been worked out. Safeway and Acme owner Albertsons banished self-check for a time, but later brought it back as a way to reduce lines and appeal to customers who liked the option.
Germany’s Aldi, which now has small-format stores in all three Delaware counties, uses large bar codes on its private-label groceries. That virtually eliminates the twisting motions sometimes needed in getting the system to ID an item. You still need to keep tabs on bar codes for produce.
Still, self-checking with a full grocery cart is a gamble since there is a decent chance that one or two of the items won’t scan. A brave and determined shopper must punch in the tiny numbers on the bar code or ask for assistance. Grocers have responded by designating at least some self-check lanes to a limited number of items.
Like any delicate IT-driven system, self-serve lanes occasionally crash or run out of receipt paper. I saw a near meltdown at a Shoprite a year ago when some self-check lanes were down, and lines became uncomfortably long.
Whether self-checkout dented the Kenny stores’ bottom line is doubtful. Shoprites are busy places with large format stores loaded with items you can’t get elsewhere. Those with roots in the New York metro area, like its Tri-State offerings.
Still, competition is intense, and as the ad proclaimed – “You asked. We listened.” Perhaps the following should have been added – “Yeah, it took a while.” – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.