PCC grocery stores to remove all self-checkout kiosks

PCC Community Markets has made the decision to remove all the self-checkout kiosks from their stores. They’ve already taken them out of their Fremont, Greenlake, Aurora, and Redmond stores, and the rest will be removed by summer.

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“We stopped putting self-checks in our stores in 2016 with the new stores,” said Heather Snavely, VP of marketing at PCC. “Last year we renamed ourselves PCC Community Markets and one of the things we did was look at the relationship our shoppers have with our cashiers and our staff. And what we realized was a kiosk doesn’t create community or connections. So we wanted to take those out so that when someone comes into our stores, they have a human connection with someone and an interaction that will make the experience more special.”

Removing technology from a grocery store is exactly the opposite of what many chains are doing. At cashier-free Amazon Go — which has locations in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco — you can grab a sandwich and a soda and just walk out the door. Your Amazon account is automatically charged as you exit.

At some Walmart and Kroger stores, shoppers can use phone cameras to scan items and pay. And at some big chains, robots are already being used to scan store shelves and alert workers when things need to be restocked.

Snavely says PCC customers weren’t complaining about self-checkout, but since the removal they’re getting mostly positive feedback. I asked some people around town what they prefer.

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“I typically prefer to have human interaction. It’s usually faster not having to find where to scan. Especially if you’re buying alcohol, it just makes things a lot easier, too,” said one person.

“I actually like the self-checkout because it’s convenient, you’re in a hurry. I just like to scan stuff and be done. At least have both options,” said another.

“Yes, I use self-checkout. I kind of like it but it’s usually actually almost slower than the regular checkout,” a third shopper told me.

That has been my experience as well.

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At one chain supermarket in particular, almost every time I use the self-checkout, I end up needing a cashier’s assistance anyway. Either the machine doesn’t detect my bag, or a barcode won’t scan, or they have to come over and check my ID. I’d rather wait in line for a cashier.

“We didn’t love it,” Snavely said. “That was part of the reason we moved away from it as well, for those very same reasons you mentioned. That, for us, wasn’t a great customer service experience and that’s why we wanted to move away from them and go to express or full service.”

Snavely says removing the self-checkout machines won’t create any new jobs, they’ll just shuffle existing employees around. They’ll also build new express checkout lanes to replace the kiosks and keep the lines moving.

PCC says its emphasis is on community. But even if you don’t want more social interaction at the grocery store, at least you won’t be looking at yet another screen.

“I do believe that people are so much on their phones, so much time in front of screens that they do want a moment when they aren’t in front of a screen,” said Snavely. “Even at the grocery store to have to stand in front of the screen and push buttons just isn’t a great experience. And I do think that you’ll see more things like this moving forward. That people want to unplug from technology when they can.”