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Love them or hate them, Jewel’s self-checkouts are on their way out

by Christin Roby
Oct 16, 2013

Christin Roby/MEDILL

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The Illinois-based grocery chain Jewel-Osco is making another adjustment to its business model to improve the customer experience, this time removing self-checkouts from several locations, including several in the city.

“Some customers were leaving without any interaction with an employee and this is not reflective of our best customer service practices,” said Jewel spokeswoman, Allison Sperling.

Jewel-Osco has more than 170 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Since their acquisition by New York-based Cerberus Capital Management in March, stores have seen major changes, including the dissolution of their customer rewards program.

Stores that have already eliminated the self-checkouts include locations in Homewood, River Forest, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights and Glen Ellyn in the suburbs, and Norwood Park, Edgewater and River North in the city. Sperling said all transitions should be completed by year-end.

John Pauga, floral manager at the River North location on Ohio and State streets said the increase in theft is what prompted the company to remove the free-standing machines.

“People pay for one thing and put two in the bag,” he said. “And with four checkout lanes and only one cashier supervising, there’s no way to catch everyone every time.”

John List, department of economics chair at University of Chicago, echoed Pauga.

“Removing self-checkouts will have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line,” he said. “Customers will still get out quickly, and there won’t be as much customer shoplifting.”

A July 2013 survey conducted by Cisco, a world leader in changing how people connect and communicate, concluded 58 percent of shoppers prefer assistance from in-store associates when shopping in stores.

List also argued that the more personal customer experience would justify the cost of increased cashier wages.

“People prefer human interaction,” he claimed. “Many customers get frustrated with self-checkouts at some point, and that’s never the type of experience you want a customer to have.”

Other drawbacks of self-checkouts include the delay in lines during liquor sales and with purchases of more than 15 items.
According to Sperling, Jewel-Osco is replacing self-checkouts with express lanes manned by cashiers to provide quick in-and-out checkouts, while still providing customer service at the last point of sale.

“There won’t be any notable changes in time,” Sperling said. “Our cashiers are experts on running the registers.”

Rachel Schultz, a River North resident, said she supports Jewel’s decision to remove self-checkouts, since they take away jobs.

“If it’s between self-checkouts and jobs, I’ll just wait in line,” Schultz said.

Michael Albrecht, an Old Town resident, said the bigger issue is not about employees losing jobs, rather about looking toward the future.

“If we stop with technology in this world, I understand that it would take away jobs. But I think there are always new jobs being created out there,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with them losing jobs, specifically because there are always new jobs opening up.”

Sperling said in the long run this change would make an impression on customers, letting them know that Jewel Osco is here to cater to them as best they can.

With their largest competitor, Dominick’s, announcing they are leaving the Chicago market in January, Jewel’s spokeswoman said she is eager to become customers’ new home.

“We want to be the first ones to earn their business,” Sperling said.

Jewel has recently begun remodeling several stores, including the Ohio and State location. They have also acquired four Dominick’s locations that will be converting to Jewel locations in January.

“We want to continue to serve with our very best, and we are excited for the opportunity to continue to grow.”