When cashier-less technology fails, so does the customer experience

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When cashier-less technology fails, so does the customer experience

By Lawrence Aylward - 02/13/2018
Don't underestimate the importance of the human cashier.

When I go to the grocery store, I like to check out in a line that has a cashier — a real live person.

This is not because I’m old school; I’m open to new technology, especially that of the all-the-rage cashier-less technology. Unfortunately, where I grocery shop, the technology sometimes doesn’t work. I compare it to boarding an airplane these days — I know that about one-third of the time something is going to go wrong to cause the flight to be late.

It’s frustrating, especially for an impatient (I admit) person like me. But there are scores of people like me shopping in grocery stores who want to get in and out as fast as we can. And when the “computer cashier,” as I like to call it, starts blinking its red light and barking in a monotone voice that something has gone wrong, we roll our eyes and mutter to ourselves, “Here we go again.”

So I have come to loathe the computer cashier. I try to avoid it, even if I have to get in a longer line with a human who’s manning the register because I know that a human in this case is more reliant. (I’ve also come to assume that the line with the human cashier is long because other shoppers are experiencing the same difficulties with the computer cashier that I am.)

So, as a consumer and not as someone who thinks he knows everything there is to know about the grocery industry (I don’t), I’m asking retailers to make darn sure that any automated technology they adopt works before they roll it out. If it works one-third of the time (like my experiences with the airlines), that’s a poor score. Even if it works nine out of 10 times, that’s simply not good enough.

Where I go to shop, the computer cashier may or may not have improved over the past few years. I’m simply not sure because I try to avoid it. There have been times when I get along just fine with the computer cashier, times I consider morale victories. There have also been times where I have probably messed something up, causing the computer cashier to alert a human employee that it’s time to intervene because it is dealing with a dumb customer. But checking out groceries correctly shouldn’t be on me.

A retailer’s intangible store brand is its customer experience. It can be argued that this is the most important store brand of all. Who wants to set foot in a store that provides a lousy customer experience, be it from humans or automation?

One thing I will say about the store I shop: It offers a fantastic customer experience from a people perspective, even though I get the feeling the employees are short-handed at times. I just hope automation doesn’t ruin it to the point that I don’t want to go there anymore.

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