Self-Checkout Trends in Canadian Retail

Self-checkout has been a big trend over recent years for Canadian retailers, especially as some provinces, like Ontario and Alberta, have increased minimum wage trends.

When it first came onto the scene, many speculated that it was only a matter of time before human cashier positions ceased to exist and everyone used automated checkouts to pay for their purchases.

Yet recently some Canadian Tire stores in Toronto have pulled their self-checkouts. Canadian Tire declined to say whether any other locations have followed suit in getting rid of self-checkout. It said in an email to CBC News that each of its stores is independently operated by an associate dealer who decides “what checkout experience works best for their customers.”

While this is only a small portion of Canadian Tire stores so far, the question needs to be asked – is self-checkout effective?

Customer reactions are mixed.

The latest Grocery Experience National Survey Report from Dalhousie University found that 54% of Canadians think self-checkout lanes are a good idea, with 66% saying they use them at least occasionally.

Yet the research also found that self-checkouts are often a source of frustration for users.

“They’re going to have to do a better job in getting the right technology in place if they want to capitalize on self-checkout,” Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University specializing in food distribution and policy, told CBC News.

While 66% of respondents are using self-checkouts “occasionally,” 26% are using them “never” and only 11% said they use them “all the time.”

CBC News found that in some cases, going through the self-checkout lanes actually slows customers down.

Self-checkout trends in-store.

The first self-checkouts came to Canada in 2000, and since then they have evolved significantly.

As we get into 2019, there have been many changes – including several Canadian Tire stores pulling their kiosks.

In the U.S. PCC Community Market is getting rid of its self-checkout machines. PCC said that two-thirds of customers were choosing cashiers, so they determined automated checkout wasn’t a good fit for their brand.

But other stores are embracing self-checkout, albeit with a few changes.

In late 2018, Walmart announced that it would be adding more self-checkout lanes to its Canadian stores, while scaling back a “scan-and-go” program – which allowed customers to scan products as they shopped – from 20 locations to three.

Anecdotally we have seen some Walmart stores changing their self-checkouts by implementing an item limit. Shoppers Drug Mart also has an item limit of only one-to-six items in some locations since the retailer first introduced the option. Shoppers Drug Mart also changed its kiosks to remove a widely-reviled voice from its machines in 2017.

Loblaws is reportedly testing a “shop and scan” app, taking after Amazon Go. And, speaking of Amazon, they have opened up 10 locations so far and more could be on the way.

How your store can take advantage

There are several industries where self-checkout seems to be most effective.

  • Fast food: In 2004, McDonalds found that customers spend 30% more on average when using self-checkouts because they’re less worried about the people behind the cash register judging their choices.
  • Airports: The cost of using a self-service kiosk drops airport overhead from $3 per person (when checking in via a staffed attendant) to just $0.14.

If your store has self-checkout, remember to make sure the technology is clear and easy to use. And don’t forget about point-of-sale displays either. As the McDonalds model shows, people may be more likely to indulge when only a machine is seeing what they buy. Manufacturers can also use these trends to think of POS displays.

Be sure to analyze the overhead and checkout time. If it’s taking significantly longer to go through self-service, there could be a problem.

Beyond overhead, think about your brand and how self-service reflects on it. Like PCC, self-checkout may not be for you – or it might be.

At Marketsupport Canada, we can help assess your store layout or POS displays to take advantage of self-checkout, or full-service checkout.

Contact us today to learn more. Call 1-877-421-5081 or visit

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