Self-checkout counters catch on at supermarkets

FairPrice has self-checkout counters in 59 out of its more than 130 outlets, where customers can scan, pack and pay for their items.
FairPrice has self-checkout counters in 59 out of its more than 130 outlets, where customers can scan, pack and pay for their items.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Do-it-yourself style of paying for groceries helps tackle labour crunch, cut queueing time

From self-checkout counters to scan-and-go systems, supermarket chains are adopting different technologies to tackle the labour crunch and cut waiting time for customers.

FairPrice, Sheng Siong, Giant and Cold Storage may not be able to provide the Amazon Go experience yet - where customers grab items and leave, as purchases are charged to their cards through an app - but they have seen how technology can resolve some of their woes.

In December, Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in Seattle, which is being tested by its employees. The retailer said the store will open to the public early this year.

In Singapore, Sheng Siong has started a hybrid self-checkout system in 15 of 42 outlets. It will be rolled out to other outlets this year.

The regular system requires a cashier to scan, pack and collect payment from customers. Electronic transactions, such as Nets and credit cards, add a minute to the wait, during which the cashier is unable to assist the next customer.

Sheng Siong's hybrid system cuts out the need for cashiers to collect payment, which means they get to the next customer quicker.

  • 15 

    Number of Sheng Siong outlets with hybrid self-checkout system, out of 42 outlets. It will be rolled out to other outlets this year.

    27

    Number of Cold Storage outlets with integrated self-checkout system, out of 60 outlets, with expansion plans on the cards. 

    59

    Number of FairPrice outlets with self-checkout counters, out of more than 130 outlets. 

Customers are given the bill and pay using a cash machine.

"The system is able to reduce a customer's waiting time by 30 seconds and give us 40 per cent manpower savings," a Sheng Siong spokesman said, adding that the scan-and-pack counter can substitute five traditional counters.

Cold Storage has also installed integrated self-checkout systems in 27 of 60 outlets, with expansion plans on the cards. Shoppers scan, pack and pay for their grocery items at self-checkout counters.

Self-checkout kiosks help to save time, say shoppers

"Cold Storage has reduced the number of cashiers needed per mid-sized store by about 44 per cent, and customer waiting time by 40 per cent," a spokesman said.

Designer Peter Fang, 48, is a fan of the self-checkout system."Each time, I save about 10 minutes. It's easy to use and the queues are usually shorter," he said.

Besides the self-checkout coun- ters in 59 of its more than 130 outlets, FairPrice also has a scan-and-go system at its FairPrice Finest outlet in Bukit Timah Plaza, which it introduced in 2014.

Customers registered with a "Scan2go" card can collect scanners from the front and scan items as they shop. They then pay at dedicated cashier counters.

Ms Lian Lay Yong, senior director of business groups support at NTUC FairPrice, said the 100 scanners account for about 10 per cent of transactions at the store.

When The Straits Times visited the outlet last Thursday, there were about 20 customers using the system over a period of half an hour.

Administrator Annie Tan, 57, said she has used the system five times. She said: "I like the system because it saves me at least 15 minutes."

Giant hypermarkets have self- checkout and self-weighing stations, which the chain plans to introduce in its smaller outlets too.

"Now, these DIY services are more important because of the labour crunch," a Giant spokesman said.

And shoppers in Singapore may be ready for an Amazon Go-like system, as Singaporeans are frequent travellers and like being early adopters of such technology, said Ms Angela Cheng, manager of the diploma in business management (retail and event management) course at Nanyang Polytechnic.

"With the infrastructure in place and the constant pursuit of training people in leading technologies, we can imagine that it would take off in two to three years," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'Self-checkout counters catch on at supermarkets'. Print Edition | Subscribe