Quick Chek knows how speed affects its in-store experience.
“We’re always in the path of busy consumers looking to get in and out, so we’re in the business of selling time,” said John Schaninger, VP sales and merchandising, Quick Chek, Whitehouse, N.J., which operates some 120 convenience stores in New Jersey and southern New York. “The more we can do to speed up our service the better, especially during peak times in the early morning, mid-day and after-work hours.”
According to the findings of a new study by Retail Banking Research, Ltd. (RBR), about 73,900 self-checkout units were installed in North America at the end of 2008. The study forecasts that the installed base of self-checkouts is due to nearly triple by 2012 to reach 250,000 units globally. By 2014, the number of such terminals installed around the world will have more than quadrupled to 430,000.
The company sought an efficient, alternative way to speed up the checkout process and enhance customer service. In a pilot program believed to be the first in the convenience store industry, it installed self-checkout lanes in its Phillipsburg, N.J., store in August. The technology, which is equipped with note and coin recycling capabilities, is from Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp. The system reuses the bills and coins that are constantly fed into the system throughout the day.
“Usually you have to load thousands of dollars into the machine as an initial start-up to keep the money-disposal process flowing, but you don’t have to with this technology,” Schaninger noted.
Instead, the cash one shopper uses to pay for a purchase is used to give change to the next shopper.
“We monitor the system to make sure there is enough money in there at all times, and we also have replenishment capabilities,” Schaninger added. “So far it’s been seamless and easy.”
Quick Chek previously had three checkout registers, but it now has two operated by employees and four self-service units.
“Although many companies are cutting back on implementing new technology in stores, we feel as though—good economy or not—we have to do what’s best for the customer, and it’s our job to figure out how to make it work,” Schaninger said.
The test location was chosen due to the mix of clientele it attracts.
“Since we know certain demographics adapt better to new technology, we wanted to see how our whole customer base would react to it,” Schaninger said. “A lot of our shoppers were already familiar with how to use the technology and for those new to it, we’re seeing them adapt easily,” he added.
With the exception of Quick Chek, the c-store industry has been slow to adopt self-checkout. According to NCR’s industry marketing director John Saccomanno, this is partially due to the fact that earlier-generation self-checkouts were larger than today’s solutions and did not have the system flexibility to adapt to smaller, unique formats such as convenience stores.
But now the technology has advanced to the point where such systems can be tailored to better fit any retail environment and are more focused on improving customer service rather than cutting labor costs, Saccomanno said.
“[C-]store cashiers must perform multiple tasks—more so than in other retail formats,” he noted. “In addition to operating the point of sale, they’re often required to stock merchandise, reset gasoline pumps, clean up spills and so on. Self-checkout can allow more time for convenience store employees to handle these additional transactions and activities.”
As to whether more units will be rolled out to the rest of its stores, the company is still looking at the ROI.
“We are still analyzing the data, but so far everything is very favorable,” Schaninger said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to put more systems into other locations soon.”