18 June 2006

Self-checkout? Just you wait [The Washington Post]

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Customer at a self-checkout kiosk
The Washington Post writes that the line with no cashier has the most impatient customers and that many shoppers use self-checkout devices because they believe it will allow them to avoid delays and human interaction.

The article quotes Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and managing partner of Context-Based Research Group in Baltimore, a company that performs ethnographic fieldwork for insights into consumer behavior:

“People’s eagerness to use a machine rather than talk to a person doesn’t mean they don’t value face-to-face encounters. Younger people [who are computer-savvy] have discovered which situations are face-to-face-worthy and which are not. For them, a grocery store transaction does not qualify.”

The article also features Paco Underhill, president and chief executive of Envirosell, a behavioral market research firm, who has written several books on what shoppers want and how they act. Underhill thinks a problem is that the checkout machines of today were all engineered by males: “Silicon Valley geeks designing for Silicon Valley geeks,” rather than by multi-tasking mothers. In general, where self-checkout has worked best is where there are people making almost ritual purchases — a Home Depot, for example.”

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