THE BLOG

Cashier or Smartphone: Which Do You Prefer?

04/03/2012 05:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2012
  • Phil Lempert CEO, editor and columnist, www.SupermarketGuru.com

Most consumers would rather have a competent cashier and bagger than self-checkout lanes. After all, it's the ending to our shopping trip and common sense tells us that last touch point be a positive emotional human connection and should be a pleasant experience, the one that keeps us smiling as we pay our bill, and head out the door. It is why some supermarkets teach their baggers to always offer to help you carry your groceries out to your car.

I have little doubt, however, that cashiers and baggers will become extinct. And not just in supermarkets.

Yesterday I went to my local Apple store to pick up a car charger for my iPhone. I've always enjoyed visiting and shopping at Apple -- the staff is knowledgeable and helpful -- and I love the fact there is no checkout lane, but any associate can check you out right from their iPhone. Same this time. Except after the transaction was complete, the person who was helping me asked me if I had the Apple Store app installed. He then downloaded it for me and showed me how to use it -- and told me that I no longer even needed to ask for help. All I had to do from now on was just pick up any item, scan it and walk out the door. No human intervention unless I so desired.

Back to the supermarket.

According to survey findings of the 2012 National Grocers Association-SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel Survey Report, consumers have plenty to say about what bothers them most at the checkout. Wait time is their #1 complaint, expressed by nearly half of survey respondents (45.7%). Less-than-careful handling of merchandise by the cashier or bagger is next (22.3%), followed by cashier or bagger attitude (16.7%), slow transaction speed (13.6%) and lack of a bagger (12.9%) rounding out the Top Five issues.

I have little doubt that these days people do trust and value their smartphone, and that makes the evolution of the checkout an easy next step for the supermarket industry. Stop & Shop supermarkets, the Boston-based chain, is now testing a smartphone app, Scan It!, which ties in to their loyalty card complete with special offers -- but you still have to "check out" at the Scan It! express lanes.

Many shoppers are learning to appreciate the tech-savvy nature of comparing prices at nearby retailers, cellphone scanners, in-store interactive media devices, QR codes, and mobile coupons that food retailers increasingly deliver on the promise of independent, efficient and information rich store visits. What most shoppers do not realize is that supermarket retailers are faced with a problem -- the GS1 DataBar standards are impending, and many barcode scanners need to be updated which is a huge investment, which is why these stores would love for us to use our smartphones to check out and minimize their upgrade costs.

These checkout apps also will soon allow shoppers the opportunity to find out nutritional, allergy and country of origin information on individual products, and receive special offers, electronic coupons, flash sales. For many, high-tech adds high-touch with suggested purchases and targeted offers based on past purchase behavior. For others, it's nothing more than an annoyance.

Which do you prefer for your grocery shopping? Cashier or smartphone? Do you have a favorite cashier or bagger? Let's celebrate them! Just add their names (first name is fine) and store name and location in the comments below.