Self-Checkout: It's Not Just For Lanes Anymore

With the nation's largest casino town as its backdrop, IBM and NCR gambled that the ho-hum growth in self-checkout can become a winner if the systems are moved away from the front-of-the-store checkout lanes and moved back toward the deli, bakery and even in the middle of the cereal aisle. All in all, I'd rather take my chances at rolling a 10 the hard way.

Las Vegas was hosting the 2008 Food Marketing Institute and Marketechnics show, which felt like self-checkout central this week.

Both IBM and NCR introduced competing units, but both used a very similar strategy: Make the units smaller (and somewhat less functional) so they can be used in non-traditional checkout locations.

In one sense, this is a very passive queue-busting approach, where the lines aren't busted as much as split into multiple smaller lines as far apart from each other as possible. It's a way of adding new checkout locations in a different way.

IBM was specifically pushing this approach, with its IBM AnyPlace Checkout. NCR was technologically trying the same thing, but instead of pushing it for other areas of grocery stores, NCR's tack was to go into other kinds of retailers "beyond high-volume retail and grocery environments, such as department stores, convenience stores and pharmacies," NCR said.

With IBM, the new units are smaller and lower cost, coming in at about half the $20,000 IBM's full self-checkout units typically have sold for.

For that lower cost, retailers are giving up some of the unit's security functions, such as weight verification, said Fredrik Carlegren, IBM's offering marketing manager for self service.

The $8,000 to $12,000 smaller units are designed to handle smaller basket sizes (10 or fewer items) and Carlegren said that he expects the units, targeted to ship this summer, to be typically wall-mounted. "If you're looking at a grocery, a few units (could exist) within any particular department," he said.

Greg Buzek, the president of the IHL consulting firm who closely tracks the kiosk and self-service space, said this hybrid is a cross between a kiosk and a self-checkout system. "This allows the self-checkout to move into other areas where it's too costly today," Buzek said. "We're talking convenience and drug stores, places where you don't have the labor savings to justify a full big" self-checkout system.