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Reuters reports that Walmart plans to add more self-checkout lanes to both its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores around the US as a way of cutting both costs and prices.

CFO Charles Holley said yesterday at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in New York City that self-checkout “has the potential to save Wal-Mart millions of dollars.” The story notes that “for every one second in average transaction time at the Walmart U.S. chain, the company said it spends about $12 million in cashier wages.”

Walmart has recently reversed a long string of stagnant quarters in terms of US same-store sales, but is still looking for ways to grow sales and profits.
KC's View:
My position on self-checkout has been consistent over the years. It can be a good idea if it is viewed as enabling by customers, but it is not a good idea if it is seen as just a way to save money on labor. The checkout is one of the few places - especially at a Walmart - where customers and front line employees actually interact, and I don’t think it is ever helpful to reduce those interactions. (If it is, you have other problems.) I like it when self-checkout allows stores to actually move employees to the aisles ... but unfortunately, that seems not to happen that often.

It is ironic that Walmart is expanding self-checkout at a time when some companies are cutting back on it. (Though the reasons for at least some of those cutbacks seems to be antiquated systems that the chains don’t want to spend money to replace, not some high-minded strategic imperative, which is what they’d like us to believe.) Also, I’ve had plenty of retailers tell me that self-checkouts aren’t so much speedier than manned checkouts as they create the perception of speed. Maybe, since Walmart specializes in the perception of having the lowest prices, that is appropriate...