Notes from The Cube: “Can Self-Checkout Really Work?”

At a recent Friday dessert conclave, Ryan Hansen described his year-long thesis research about how grocery store self-checkout kiosks have changed the way customers and staff interact with technology and with each other.

Ryan considered how cities spur civic engagement, and applied urban design principles to his analysis, with the goal of improving the customer experience. He surveyed new models for full automation like Amazon Go as well as Japan’s flourishing vending machine culture, necessitated by an aging population and dearth of low-cost labor.

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The foot traffic flow of a Lunds & Byerlys grocery store checkout area.

Ryan’s research focused on Minnesota’s Lunds & Byerlys grocery store chain, which broadly implements self-checkout in its stores. He spent time in the St. Paul flagship studying how customers interacted with the kiosks; exploring demographic and design issues with an in-house architect, interior designer, and financial analyst; and interviewing cashiers and attendants to learn how self-checkout affected their daily tasks. He also visited Target and Walmart to see how their checkout areas were organized.

Ryan found that self-checkout has broad ergonomic, social, spatial, and organizational implications that all can be influenced by design. How intuitive is the self-checkout screen? What is the best pitch and volume of a warning buzzer? How can the checkout area be organized to enhance security and improve worker satisfaction? What visual cues can ease traffic flow? How can lighting and color induce calm?

Ryan’s hope is that careful planning and design can promote healthy human interactions, even when we’re picking up milk and eggs on the way home.

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Ryan’s drawing comparing self and traditional checkout lines.