Pioneered largely by grocery retailers, today autonomous, self-service checkout is increasingly touted to become the norm for brick and mortars. However, new findings from CivicScience suggest that sentiment among consumers continues to lag behind industry expectations.

Less than a third of U.S. adults say they prefer to use self-checkout kiosks if they have the option when shopping at stores (n=2,692). Combined with those who don’t have a preference (likely driven by convenience and whichever line is the shortest), that is still less than the majority of shoppers who prefer to go through a cashier’s line.

What’s more, preference for self-checkout kiosks has not grown since CivicScience first began surveying about the topic in 2018. In fact, this year shows a slight decline in preference for self-checkout kiosks compared to last year. 

Interestingly, the survey results suggest that self-checkout preference has not been heavily influenced by COVID, as preference has not grown since 2018.

Why aren’t Americans more favorable to self-checkout? Findings from 2021 indicated that the majority of self-checkout kiosk users experienced issues or errors when using the POS checkout systems and required employee assistance. Current survey results actually show an increase in the percentage of those who say they encounter problems “very often,” which now accounts for close to one-quarter of respondents.

This could be having a negative impact on growth of self-checkout preference, possibly deterring customers from opting for what is intended to be a quicker, more convenient user checkout experience. 

Part of the hesitancy to further adopt self-checkout as the go-to checkout method may also lie in sentiments regarding AI and jobs, especially in as heated an economic climate as today’s. Data from April indicate that 69% of adults are concerned about AI replacing the jobs of American workers. 

Important to note, the data show that age is a deciding factor in preference and adoption. Forty percent of Gen Z adults and Millennials prefer to use self-checkout terminals, over-indexing well above the Gen Pop average. That’s roughly equivalent to the percentages of these age groups that prefer cashier-mediated checkout.

Amazon Go Adoption

What can self-checkout preference tell us about the next stage of self-service checkout being launched, such as Amazon Go’s “Just Walk Out” technology? After test-driving the convenience stores in cities across the U.S., Amazon is beginning to open Amazon Go brick and mortar locations in suburban areas. Checkout is largely “contactless” – shoppers simply select items and walk out, using an app to pay and avoiding the entire checkout process.

CivicScience survey results show that 12% of respondents have previously visited an Amazon Go location and a majority of shoppers said that they liked the experience. Just 14% have never shopped there but are interested. Yet there is room for Amazon Go to grow – a large percentage of Americans haven’t heard of the up-and-coming convenience stores yet. 

As anticipated, results show a significant correlation between shoppers who prefer to use self-checkout kiosks and Amazon Go shoppers and intenders. Forty-six percent of people with Amazon Go shopping experience prefer to use self-checkout kiosks, outweighing those shoppers who prefer to use traditional cashier lines. That’s in comparison to just 29% of those who have never visited an Amazon Go store.

Self-checkout continues to lag behind preference for cashiers and Amazon Go is not yet widely available. However, survey results suggest a surprisingly strong interest in Amazon Go’s style of contactless app-mediated checkout, which is good news for retailers and vendors looking to try out similar technology in a tight labor market. 

A total of 47% of respondents said they were at least somewhat likely to use contactless checkout at stores rather than a self-checkout kiosk or cashier line.

Likewise, those who already regularly use self-checkout kiosks are the most likely to adopt contactless checkout technology. Two-in-three are at least somewhat likely to use it in the future. On the other hand, just one-in-three respondents who prefer cashiers would consider contactless checkout.

Even though the scales are still tipped in favor of cashiers and self-checkout preference seems to be stagnating, contactless checkout technology may breathe new life into the POS space, bringing with it new choices and opportunities for an increasingly frictionless customer experience.