Self-checkout sucks! Or does it?

3 Common objections to Self-Checkout and how to solve them


Avoiding self-checkout? That’s about to change.

Any shop owner looking for information on the internet about self-checkout will undoubtedly stumble upon a long list of articles against the evils of self-checkout tills.

But is the concept of self-checkout doomed or do consumers dislike the current cashier-less checkouts because of practical, solvable technical issues?

After all, if people are queueing to visit the Amazon GO stores, it seems clear that there is a bright future for digitalization in retail.

So, why does self-checkout tend to elicit such viscerally negative responses?

The most common complaints about self-checkout can be summarized as :

Let’s break down each of these points more in depth to understand what the main objections to self-checkout are, and how they can be addressed.


Myth #1 Nobody likes self-checkout 


The rise of automation in modern customer experience has been coming for a long time. Actions we now take for granted, like filling our own carts, were not the norm in the 19th century (the first store in US where customers could fill their own baskets was opened in 1917) but the idea of automating the shopping experience is a bit more recent, going back to Harvard business student Wallace Flint’s thesis of 1932.

Flint imagined an automated check-out system where customers would select punched cards corresponding to their items of choice from a catalogueand a checkout attendant would place each card in a reader. The selected items would then be delivered via a conveyor belt system. While this particular idea was never realized, the desire to automate the shopping process and innovate the customer experience has always been at the core of the retail industry 

However, self-checkout kiosks that have failed to improve the customer experience has caused both frustration and calls for the removal of all self-checkout machinesFirst of all, it would be wrong to paint these consumers as a Luddite army refusing to adjust to new technologies.  

Willingness to use new technology has been measured in many surveys and studies, and, for example,the Annual Connected Retailer Survey, SOTI of January 2019 stated that: 

“73% of respondents were in favor of self-service technologies to improve the retail shopping experience and reduce staff interactions.” 

It can be deduced that consumers are not resistant to new technology, they just dislike technology that doesn’t make their life easier

The problem is that the use of self-checkout rarely fits the promises made by the technology, as in zero queues, less time spent processing payments, and a seamless customer experience.

It’s not difficult to see the reasons why: if technology is not designed with the end user in mind, the result is often clunky, difficult to use machinery and a frustrating user experience. Common complaints against self-checkout kiosks include the difficulty to complete the process without the assistance of a store clerk, the anxiety-inducing “Unexpected Item in Bagging Area” announcements, and the fact that the process is not any faster than the regular cashier.

In fact, customers don’t like when they feel they are asked to do the cashier’s job, and this connects also to the fear that self-checkout, or more broadly speaking, automation is taking over people’s jobs. For example,  The Dalhousie University’s Grocery Experience National study of Fall 2018 found out that 26,7% of survey respondents had never used the self-checkouts and the results sparked a debate among Canadian consumers who refuse to use the self-checkout in an effort to express their resistance to increased job automation.

It is understandable that customers will never be as fast and efficient as a trained cashier in scanning items, making the experience slower and more frustrating than it should be.

To summarize, the dislike against self-checkout comes from bad user experience and customers failing to see the promises of the technology fulfilled.

What if the Self-Checkout experience was designed with the user in mind?

Imagine now a totally different scenario: you enter the store, fill your basket or cart, go to the self-checkout kiosk, and bag your items directly. You don’t have to scan items individually or take anything out of your bags at all, because the machine reads all the items in your bag at once, and you just pay and leave.

In this scenario, all the friction caused by time lost while scanning items individually, frustration at the machine’s inability to read some of the tags correctly, anxiety at the machine failing to identify all items and accusing you of having forgotten to pay for something, and annoyance at having to do another person’s job have disappeared.

You just pick your purchase , bag your items, pay and go. Sounds like a good idea? Check out our Self-checkout page to learn how this is possible.


Myth #2 Self-checkout is killing jobs 


The worry that automation kills jobs is as old as the impact of technology replacing human labor. In the early 1750s Jonas Hanway was recorded to be the first man in London using an umbrella to shield himself from the rain, a gesture that caused much ridicule and outright hostility from coach drivers, as many people used horse-drawn hansom cabs and sedan chairs specifically to avoid the rain.  

The correlation between the introduction of technology and the decline in a specific profession is not always this cut and dryAnxiety about jobs being replaced by robots is generalized and self-checkout machines have been made the scapegoat, as many automation processes are not as visible and accessible by the common consumer/shopper. In fact, refusing to use self-checkout machines is an easy, tangible choice that is often also the result of personal shopping preferences, and a painless way to express and interpret worries about the world at large. 

The Future of Jobs Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum predicts a decline of 22% in cashiers and ticket clerks by 2022, but also reports that while 75 million jobs worldwide might be lost due to automation, 133 million new jobs might emerge.  

Can Self-Checkout be used to enhance customer experience?

The “human factor” in brick and mortar shops is still a very important component of the in-store experience, but stores are also facing additional pressure from online shopping and increasing demands from customers for an ever-evolving and personalized customer experience.

Moreover, it doesn’t seem to be true that all consumers prefer to interact with a human. Convenience, desire to avoid perceived judgment for the items in our carts, and maybe the desire to keep listening to our favorite podcast without interruption, all contribute to making cashier-less stores preferable for some. The rise of 24-7 shops, online shopping, and home delivery all speak of the desire for a shopping experience that doesn’t have to include chatting with strangers.

The Whistl Online vs Offline Shopping Survey (September 2018) reports that “when it comes to buying groceries, only 17% consider human interaction important. When shopping for clothing, human interaction is not necessary for more than half (63%) of us.”

In fact, effective self-checkout technology results in the need for less cashiers, but also translates in more time for other tasks, and the possibility to enhance and develop customer experience and satisfaction. Less time spent running items through the cashier means more time available to help customers and improve their in-store experience.

One of the biggest sources of frustration with self-checkout comes from machines that still require effort, but simply shift the burden from paid employees to the consumers. This is not the case with the Nordic-ID Self-Checkout technology as there is no single-item scanning required, and literally, no effort involved.

In conclusion, self-checkout seems to have become a convenient stand-in for general anxieties about the state of jobs in an increasingly automated world, but the backlash against being forced to do the cashier’s job is understandable.

The solution is to move towards seamless, painless technology

If you are interested in a solution that does not involve making your consumers do the work and actually frees your employees’ time for better customer interactions, discover Nordic ID Self-checkout.


Myth #3 Using Self-Checkout is stressful


The irony is that self-checkout can be less stressful than interacting with a human being.  

  • A self-checkout till doesn’t care what you have put in your basket (while a small part of you wonders whether the cashier notices how many ice cream cartons you tend to buy on  weekends)
  • It doesn’t require interaction
  • If set up properly, doesn’t generate queues

Unfortunately, there are many people for whom the experience is stressful, mostly due to technical difficulties and voice commands being perceived as shouty and irritating. Remember the Tesco self-checkout tills, whose voice commands were replaced in 2015, bringing the demise of the meme-worthy “Unexpected item in bagging area”.

Common complaints against self-checkout include:

  • the machines not working properly,
  • the embarrassment of requiring assistance or being suspected of improper use
  • the fact that the machines are not usually designed with everybody in mind

Moreover, it is common than not all products can be purchased via self-checkout (most notably alcohol and tobacco products), adding an extra step to the process.

On the other hand, concerns about theft can cause stress to store owners looking to introduce self-checkout in their facilities.

In their 2016 article, “Scan and rob! Convenience shopping, crime opportunity and corporate social responsibility in a mobile world”, Adrian Beck and Matt Hopkins from the University of Leicester discovered that by auditing stores with handheld scanners for self-checkout, they could account for nearly $850,000 unpaid goods.

The lack of surveillance and the fact that the crime seems immaterial when committed against a robot, rather than a human, helps to normalize the behavior, and some might rationalize that, for example, labeling a product with a cheaper label, is not the same as stealing.

The stakes are also lower, as it is harder to prove that it was not a mistake or even a machine malfunction. However, technology is increasingly becoming more advanced.

there are simpler ways to track all items in store and make sure no theft occurs

When using the Nordic ID Self-Checkout, all items inside the cart or bag are automatically scanned, significantly reducing the possibility of human error or theft. Our system automatically updates the inventory when an item is paid for, removing it from the list of in-store items. The security gates open only after payment has been completed, making it much harder to take items outside the store without paying for them.

Traditional self-checkout machines are associated with higher stock loss, even if it might be offset by the reduced labor costs.

The ECR Community Shrinkage and On-shelf Availability Group (OSA) and NCR report of October 2018, states that “losses from Fixed SCO systems amount to 1 Basis point of loss per 1% of utilisation”.

While some stores are moving towards AI technology, RFID offers a more scalable and easier to implement alternative, while offering the same level of security. 

In conclusion, we analyzed some of the common objections to self-checkout, to show that, while some of the hostility from consumers is justified, there are better and more efficient ways to implement this technology for pain-free, seamless customer experience.


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Nordic ID Self-Checkout: revolutionize the concept of Self-Checkout


Nordic-ID Self-Checkout puts at the center of product development the customer experience and addresses all concerns and complaints directed at self-checkout to provide an innovative solution that delivers the promises of automation with a simple, efficient design. We are not the only ones to think this is a different and much more efficient approach to self-checkout, Frost & Sullivan has selected the Nordic ID Self-Checkout as the most innovative new product of 2019 in Europe.

Interested in learning more?



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