LAS VEGAS—Self-checkout is becoming more commonplace in convenience stores but still isn’t mainstream. Saturday’s “Self-Checkout Strategies” education session delved into the how-tos and business case for implementing the technology in a fireside chat with two c-store leaders who have successfully rolled it out.

Josh Birdwell, vice president, guest/retail technology, Pilot Travel Centers, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alan Meyer, CEO, Meyer Oil Company, dba Mach 1 convenience stores, based in Teutopolis, Illinois, joined NACS Magazine Editor-in-Chief Kim Stewart for a fireside chat exploring how these two retail chains are using self-checkout in their stores.

Pilot has more than 800 locations, while Mach 1 has 23 locations in Illinois and Indiana. Both retailers have gone all-in on self-checkout.

Any discussion of self-checkout always comes down to how it can help ease the current labor shortage, which every retailer is grappling with right now. For Birdwell and Meyer, though, adopting the frictionless technology isn’t necessarily about saving on labor.

“Reducing labor isn’t always what happens,” Birdwell said. Self-checkouts aren’t a replacement for store associates, he stresses.

Meyer agrees. “Reducing labor and labor costs is not the way to look at self-checkout,” he said. “Rather, the question is, ‘What is your labor doing?’”

Self-checkout kiosks need to be front and center and manned by a nearby associate to assist customers as needed, handle age-restricted purchases and to deter theft. Having a team member in the bullpen area as a greeter is key, especially when it comes to enhancing the customer experience. Don’t make your customers wait for assistance, which can clog up the line and only adds to the friction that you are trying to remove in the process.

In that way, both Pilot and Mach 1 are focusing on transforming the customer experience by speeding up the checkout process and removing friction to get their customers on their way quickly.

While some c-stores only accept credit or debit card transactions at the self-checkout, Pilot and Mach 1 both also accept cash, even for fuel purchases, since the c-store customer still primarily pays in cash. Units that accept bills and coins are pricier, but they broaden the access for all customers, making sure that they are welcome no matter what payment method they use.

“The self-checkout needs to do everything that a traditional manual checkout can,” Meyer said. Units that accept cash benefit both the customer and the sales associate, who doesn’t need to stress out about making change, for example.

When it comes to the business case for self-checkout, that shows up in increased throughout no matter the time of day and increased transaction counts in relation to labor costs.

Here are the key takeaways: 

  • There must be buy-in from headquarters down to the store level—go all in
  • The customer experience should be the same as traditional checkout, and that includes the ability to pay with a credit or debit card or cash
  • Self-checkout isn’t strictly about labor savings—it’s more about labor reallocation
  • Measure success by customer satisfaction, speed of checkout, throughput and sales.

Also in this issue from NACS Show Daily