Albertsons bucks supermarket trend by ditching self-service checkout

The chain thinks human contact trumps efficiency

There may be some supermarket customers who enjoy self-service checkout, but the Albertsons chain is bucking the trend and removing self-service checkout lanes in most of its stores, as well as in the Safeway and A&P stores it has acquired recently.

“We prefer face-to-face interactions with our customers,” said Susan Morris, Albertsons executive vice president, Supermarket News reports.

In exchange for the self-service lanes, Albertsons is boosting the number of express lanes and expanding its "Three's a Crowd" program, which calls for opening additional lanes when more than three customers are waiting to check out.

Albertsons has also been experimenting with a single queue in some of its stores. Instead of customers lining up at individual registers, there is a single line feeding into the check-out stations. 

Some surveys have found that customers have positive feelings about self-service checkout, but Albertsons is operating on the principle that having human contact with each customer makes up for any loss of efficiency. 

There's also the little matter of expense. While check-out clerks are expensive, so is all the complex gear needed to make self-service check-out work properly. "Shrinkage," the polite term for theft, also tends to be higher in self-service environments, retail experts say.

Albertsons has also been challenging conventional wisdom by scrapping its loyalty card programs in recent years. It saves money and ensures that all customers get the best available price on each item, in Albertsons view.

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