Business

Hy-Vee, Target the latest stores adding more self-checkout stations in Eastern Iowa

Self-checkouts now outnumber staffed registers at many stores

Donna and Wes Duerksen of Cedar Rapids check out and bag their groceries using a self-checkout station at Hy-Vee on Coll
Donna and Wes Duerksen of Cedar Rapids check out and bag their groceries using a self-checkout station at Hy-Vee on Collins Road NE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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A customer at the Collins Road NE Hy-Vee near Lindale Mall trying to find a cashier may have to look a little harder than just a year ago.

Nearly a dozen sleek, new self-checkout systems line the front of the store. That leaves the venue with four traditional checkout lines operated by cashiers and two smaller express lanes that also require an employee to run them.

The Collins Road Hy-Vee is not alone. The Waterfront Hy-Vee in Iowa City also has 10 self-service checkouts alongside nine traditional checkouts.

Retailers across the country, including those that previously were reluctant to embrace the relatively new technology, have been adding thousands of self-checkouts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Hy-Vee is not alone in increasing its cashier-less checkouts in the region. In downtown Iowa City, for example, Target’s new small-format store that opened in August has five self-service checkouts and only three traditional checkouts.

Target corporate spokeswoman Liz Hancock said about one-third of the Minneapolis-headquartered chain’s customers prefer self-checkouts.

Most Target stores still have more staffed checkouts on site than self-checkouts, but specific store totals vary “depending on how the local guests shop the store.”

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While the downtown Iowa City location has mostly self-checkouts, the retailer’s larger Coralville location has mostly staffed checkouts.

In June, Walmart converted a store in Fayetteville, Ark., to entirely self-checkout.

Hy-Vee spokeswoman Dawn Buzynski said the West Des Moines-based grocer is “testing self-checkout stations” in 140 of its stores.

“This is change we are testing for the sole purpose of enhancing the customer experience,” Buzynski said in an email Wednesday. “Hy-Vee is always looking for innovative ways to improve the customer experience in our stores.”

That will look different in each store as it’s up to each store manager to decide how many lanes are self-checkout or traditional, Buzynski said. The retailer has been installing stations that can be converted from self-checkout to staffed checkout and vice versa.

“Most customers like the self-checkout option and are positive about the change,” Buzynski said.

There still are some holdouts, though, to the self-checkout movement. When a Gazette reporter was at the Waterfront Hy-Vee on a recent weekday afternoon, some customers opted to wait in line for one of the three staffed registers rather than using one of the open self-service registers.

Fewer cashier jobs

Many fear self-checkouts replacing cashier will cause the chain to employ fewer people. Buzynski said in an email the addition of self-checkouts “doesn’t affect staffing or eliminate any positions.”

Hancock, the Target spokeswoman, also said the addition of self-checkouts does not mean fewer jobs.

“Offering self-checkout lanes means we can move more of our team to the sales floor, where they provide elevated service to our guests as they shop,” Hancock said in an email.

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“While rolling out more self-checkout stations, we continue to increase our team member count, reflecting our commitment to hiring and training experts who can offer great guest service.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7 percent decrease in cashier jobs between 2019 and 2029, though, citing “advances in technology, such as the use of self-service checkout stands in retail stores and increasing online sales.”

Earlier in the pandemic, United Kingdom scientists expressed concerns about self-checkout kiosks as a coronavirus hazard.

Many retailers, including the Collins Road Hy-Vee, have placed hand sanitizer at each self-checkout.

The self-checkouts have not been a perfect solution for retailers nationwide, either.

ECR Shrink Group, which does research on the retail industry, said in a 2018 report that grocers who rely on self-checkouts see higher rates of theft.

Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, removed the weight-triggered anti-theft safeguards — which determined if the item scanned weighed the same as what was placed in the bagging space — because of a high number of “wait for assistance” messages.

But a customer who prefers having a cashier scan groceries is not out of luck.

“We will accommodate anyone who wishes to have a Hy-Vee employee scan their groceries and take their payment,” Buzynski said. “All they need to do is ask.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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