Sunday, October 21, 2007

Does self-checkout reduce impulse buys?

Over a year ago we first heard rumblings that shoppers who routinely used self-checkout lanes were less likely to make impulse purchases. Whether it was because people who use the lanes are inherently less likely to make impulse buys, or that the lanes were causing regular shoppers to become a little too efficient is still a matter of much discussion. But only just recently the topic resurfaced when research firm IHL Consulting Group noted that, "impulse purchases among women drop 32.1 percent and men 16.7 percent when self-checkout is used instead of a staffed checkout."

This time, though, the group suggests a few possible causes, backed up with real data. The first cause is simple enough: not many retailers that have installed self-checkout lanes have bothered putting the racks of chewing gum, salty snacks and other popular impulse items nearby. Similarly, while the science of arranging racks of impulse goods near traditional checkout lanes is fairly well understood, the same can't be said for self-checkout, so it's possible that stores will have to re-arrange items near these aisles to make them more eye-catching.

Second, and problematic for the industry, is that customers do appear -- for one reason or other -- to make fewer impulse buys even when the items are nearby. Again, there's no new info on whether it's due to the self-selection effect, some property of the environment, or a surplus effect of the self-checkout lanes themselves. One thing's for sure, though: if retailers find that same-store sales of impulse products fall after the installation of self-checkout lanes, that drop needs to be considering when determining the true cost -- and ultimate ROI -- of self-checkout systems.

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