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Do It Yourself. (Really)

Apparently the home improvement big-boxes, namely Lowe’s and Home Depot, have decided to take “do-it-yourself” to a new level. If you’ve been a patron of these stores over the past year or so, you’ve surely noticed the gradual replacement of live cashier’s with the self-checkout stations. What started as an alternative “express” check out option is becoming protocol. This is a fascinating move on the part of executives who’ve clearly determined that an effort to reduce staffing costs takes priority over assuring a positive shopping experience.

I’ve been to Lowe’s at least 4-5 times over the last few months, and my checkout experience seems to get progressively worse each time. At mid afternoon on weekends, which I safely assume are their peak times, all 10-12 of their regular checkout stations are closed, leaving just a few self checkouts as the only available option.

This in and of itself is disturbing. But it gets more absurd.

No system is fool proof, as these stores have quickly found. Considering such a broad spectrum of products, unique weights and sizes, as well as technical issues, checkouts often require human assistance. Further, there’s a rather broad range of clientele, from first time homeowners to professional contractors to seniors. Many are competent, ambitious individuals who just want to get what they need and quickly get back to their project. But not all. For those not savvy enough to efficiently operate an ATM machine, a self-checkout is probably quite overwhelming. Their technical inadequacy can quickly create a bottleneck, affecting all those in line behind them. It’s a severely flawed concept when it’s the only checkout option, as I can’t imagine it was ever intended to serve that kind of demand.

In a move even more mind boggling than eliminating human cashiers, big-box masterminds have come to the rescue with their next brainchild — attendants positioned near the self-checkout stations to assist those having problems. If this isn’t a case a band aid solution, I don’t know what is. The strategy was to reduce labor costs. Yet their solution requires the addition of labor to address the obvious flaws, thus negating any savings and adding customer frustration.

So, as I stand in line, several people deep, I witness one do-it-yourselfer after the next struggling simply to check out. Price discrepancies. Price checks. Faulty equipment. I’ve seen the spectrum in just my past few visits alone. They might as well broadcast over the intercom: “Thank you for shopping Lowe’s. When we say do-it-yourself, we mean it.” The message that I hear loud & clear is this: We care only about the sale, and little about the sales experience.

Lowe’s and Home Depot would serve themselves well to consider the qualities that make the small corner hardware store so desirable. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Personal attention. And oh, a human being at the checkout line. They should also consider what caused the fate of Builders Square in the late 90′s. Ironically, it was the lack of these very qualities that contributed to their unprofitability.


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Boondock Walker, Mark Nead. Mark Nead said: Do it Yourself. (Really) — A perspective on the the lunacy of self-checkout. #fb [...]

  2. Ross R wrote:

    On one hand I agree wholeheartedly. There is no reason to ever have self-checkout be the only option – especially at a hardware store. Maybe at a grocery store, but even there you would have problems.

    On the other hand – I can’t say that they are negating the labor cost-savings by having a human near the checkouts. They are likely still reducing labor by having one person take care of 2-4 checkouts. Cutting the number of checkout workers in half is still a labor cost savings.

    (Not that I agree that it would possibly be a good idea to cut labor to save money)

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