Self-service checkouts

Thursday, September 20, 2001

A new, do-it-yourself checkout system has drawn the attention of Kmart shoppers.

Customers at the Cape Girardeau Big Kmart can now scan, bag and buy their purchases without help from a cashier.

Store manager Bill Marra said the new system is planned for all stores. Cape's Big Kmart installed the four self-scan counters last week.

The local store is the first in the district, which includes Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and parts of Kentucky, to get the cashier-free stations.

The store is the only one in Cape Girardeau with the technology.

The self-service stations look similar to a modern cashier's checkout counter with bar code scanner, computer screen with instructions, credit card slide and plastic bags.

The stations allow the customer to pay by cash, credit or personal check. At the end of the station is a machine that accepts paper money and coins.

Written instructions as well as a computerized voice prompts customers through each stage.

A single attendant monitors four stations and helps customers if they need it, like if they accidentally scan something twice or the bar code on an item doesn't register.

Security cameras above each station discourage theft and highly sensitive scales under the bags instruct customers to remove items that have not yet been added to the bill.

Finally, an alarm at the door howls if an electronic bar code hasn't been de-activated, which can only happen during the scanning process.

Marra said the goal behind the new system is to increase productivity.

The self-service stations will replace express lanes, and cashiers will move elsewhere in the store where they are needed more.

Beats standing in line

Wednesday, shopper Mary Wulfers gamely tried the new system, scanning a few items, then sliding her credit card though.

She looked a little worried when the machine appeared to stall, but an attendant showed her how to complete the sale.

Despite the hiccup, "It beats standing in line," Wulfers said.

Other, more wary shoppers eyed the new technology with trepidation, and chose the checkout aisles with cashiers instead.

Big Kmart employee Betty Burrows said that's OK.

"Some, especially the older customers, say 'I want something that's people-run,'" she said.

Ruth Moreland isn't one of those customers. She first encountered a do-it-yourself counter in Texas and was glad to see one here.

"I usually stand in line for one little thing," she said. "I like this a whole lot better."

Burrows and fellow employee Tonya Watters have been busy in the past week helping customers get acclimated to the new system.

"Once they get used to it, they should be OK," Watters said. "Heck, we have to get used to it too."

When she talks a customer into trying the new service, "It kind of surprises them because it is so easy," Burrows said.

But for those who are steadfast in their preference for the human touch, cashier-operated stations are still available.

Marra said there are no plans to shift to an entirely self-service operation.

abuchanan@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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