Who uses self-checkout?

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Catalina self-checkout graphic.
Many shoppers use both self- and manned-checkout options.

A new study sheds light on the demographics of consumers most likely to complete a shopping trip with self-checkout.

The number of self-checkout lanes in the U.S. has increased 10% in the last five years, according to a study from shopper intelligence firm Catalina, which assessed data from 4.5 billion UPC-level transactions by 245 million consumers accounting for $222 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2021. Catalina estimates that self-checkout lanes  now account for nearly 40% of lanes in grocery chains in the U.S.

For the study, Catalina segmented shoppers into three segments: self-checkout (SCO)-only, manned checkout-only (MCO), and a hybrid of SCO and manned lanes. Their choice of which lane to use depends on their shopper profile and purchase occasion.

Catalina data shows that 39% of analyzed shoppers used both lane types in 2021, depending upon their shopping mission. About half (49%) of shoppers preferred manned-only lanes, while only 12% of shoppers were steadfast SCO-exclusive users. Breaking down the behavior of analyzed hybrid shoppers, Catalina found their transactions were split 50-50 between MCO and SCO, with MCO accounting for 68% of sales and SCO for 32%.

Among other insights uncovered in the study were that SCO-only shoppers had smaller baskets and bought less than hybrid and MCO users. Instead of grocery stores, Catalina analysis suggests SCO-only customers likely shop for groceries in other channels, such as mass retailers or online.

Hybrid shoppers produced the highest customer value ($1,720) of all analyzed customer segments and made 36 shopping trips per year in 2021.

Catalina's analysis further indicates MCO-only shoppers are primarily baby boomers and silent generation consumers with household incomes under $100,000 and a high school education. SCO-only shopping primarily attracts silent generation shoppers, as well as Gen Z consumers.

Analyzed shoppers who use both SCO and MCO lanes are a mix of different demographics and tend to have an annual household income topping $100,000, which is higher than the other segments.

Coupon use at self-checkout lanes

The Catalina study also studies a pilot program conducted with a regional grocery retailer that compared the six-month performance of SCO shoppers who received ads with SCO consumers who did not. Both companies then measured post-campaign redemption rates to the previous year by region and type of checkout lane.

Results revealed that SCO lane shoppers who received coupons drove four times more sales growth than the SCO checkout lanes with suppressed incentives. When compared with the six-month pre-period, these coupons accounted for 181% in sales growth compared to coupons in the control group, which posted a 40% increase.

Data analytics demonstrated the incentives attracted new shoppers, engaged lapsed buyers, and contributed to an increase in store visits. 

Catalina rounded out its SCO study by offering advice to retailers planning their long-term automation strategy for checkout lanes. Suggestions include:

  • Think carefully about the balance of SCO and MCO lanes to maximize sales.
  • Use UPC-level data to better understand how lane choice links to purchase behavior.
  • Create multi-dimensional shopper profiles that include checkout preferences to entice new shoppers, woo lapsed buyers, and boost store visits.
  • Work with brands to personalize offers and optimize their marketing mix based on when and how offer recipients purchase their products in-store.

[Read more: Survey: Shoppers want easy returns, mobile and self-checkout]

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