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Self-checkout can be a divisive topic. But to hear some retailers talk about it, shoppers simply love it when their stores get rid of them.

“The overall reaction from the consumer is ‘thank you,'” Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos claimed in a call with investors last week, after the chain pulled self-checkouts out of thousands of stores. Investors are probably even more thankful, since Dollar General’s stated goal in removing self-checkouts was stopping people from stealing so much stuff.

But that’s not what Vasos wanted to focus on. “We’re getting positive customer feedback across the board,” he said. “‘We like the checkout with someone that we can interact with at all times at the front,'” he quoted shoppers as saying. “That is overwhelmingly what we get.”

Back in March, the dollar store chain began converting self-checkouts to staffed checkouts in 9,000 of the 14,000 stores that offered the do-it-yourself option. “Following the quick and successful conversion of these stores,” Vasos said last week, “we converted approximately 3,000 additional stores away from self-checkout in May.”

The goal is to deter theft, or in the parlance of the retail industry, “shrink.” “We believe this is the right course of action to drive increased customer engagement while also better positioning us to begin reducing shrink,” Vasos explained. “Moving forward, we plan to have self-checkout options available in a limited number of stores, most of which are higher volume and low-shrink locations.”

But shoppers don’t mind, Vasos insists. Reaction “is always positive,” he said, because customers “like the interaction at the front of the store.”

And self-checkout changes have apparently made for happier shoppers at Target, too. Since the retailer began limiting self-checkout users to ten items or fewer, “we’ve seen a rapid rise in guest satisfaction scores relating to both wait times and the quality of interactions with our team at checkout,” Chief Operating Officer Michael Fiddelke told investors a couple of weeks ago.

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Target has insisted its primary goal in making changes to self-checkout was about providing better customer service, not reducing theft. That’s also what Walmart says, as self-checkouts disappear from some of its stores. “We’ve decided to remove self-checkout lanes and replace them with staffed lanes at select locations,” a Walmart spokesperson said in response to reports that self-checkouts were being removed from stores in several states. “We believe the changes will improve the in-store shopping experience and give our associates the chance to provide more personalized and efficient service.”

The words “theft” or “shrink” are also nowhere to be found in a statement from Kroger-owned Pick ‘n Save, about its recent decision to launch what it calls “a no-self-checkout pilot at select stores in Wisconsin.” “We are always looking for ways to improve the customer and associate experience,” a spokesperson explained in a statement. “We anticipate this change will help us better serve our customers’ needs.”

That “pilot” is in its early days, so no word yet on whether Pick ‘n Save shoppers absolutely love it – or whether there’s more behind the move than just providing better customer service.

Other retailers that have been removing self-checkout stations aren’t mincing words. For them, it’s absolutely about reducing theft. “Like other local businesses, we are working on ways to curtail escalating theft so we can ensure the wellbeing of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers,” Safeway explained in a statement about the elimination of self-checkouts in several of its stores in California’s Bay Area. “These long-planned security improvements were implemented with those goals in mind.”

And are Safeway’s customers stopping employees in the aisles to say “thank you” for the changes? Not according to one grocery executive. “Californians love self-checkout,” California Grocers Association president and CEO Ronald Fong wrote in a recent editorial for the Sacramento Bee.

He was writing in opposition to proposed legislation that would regulate self-checkouts in the state, limiting them to ten items or fewer (later amended to 15) and requiring at least one open, staffed checkout lane per self-checkout terminal. “This misguided bill,” Fong argued, “would severely limit self-checkout and likely lead to many retailers eliminating this convenient and popular means of quickly paying for one’s grocery items.” At one time, “California sought to be a leader in technology,” he went on. But if the bill were to become law, “the state’s retail shopping environment would be resolutely stuck in the past.”

So according to Fong, shoppers love self-checkouts. According to several retailers, shoppers love not having self-checkouts. It may be that the only thing everyone can agree on, is that self-checkouts are likely to remain a divisive topic, for a long time to come.

Image source: Dollar General

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