By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Kathy Fealhaber would have preferred exchanging a few pleasant words with a Kroger cashier at the checkout Wednesday morning as she paid for her tomatoes, bananas and other items.
Instead, early customers at the grocery store on West Main Street heard a monotone computer voice at one of four self-checkouts in the store, similar to the four self-checkouts in the Kroger on Barnes Crossing Road.
“I’m not too spiffy on them,” Fealhaber said. “I guess I’ve just gotten spoiled with the checkers.”
Home Depot in Tupelo has self-checkout options for customers, and this form of checkout continues to expand in the city. The Walmart on North Gloster Street added self-checkouts about a week ago, joining the Walmart on West Main Street, which already has self-checkouts.
Walmart stores throughout the nation began using self-checkouts 17 years ago and have expanded into more than 2,800 of the company’s roughly 4,000 stores in the United States. The world’s largest retail chain now adds two to eight self checkouts in new stores and continues to install them at existing stores.
Some customers reject the automated option and prefer a human to scan their items and bag their items. But many customers like the option of self-checkout.
“We hear from customers all the time,” said Kayla Whaling, a Walmart spokesman. “They tell us they want more checkout options. We’re committed to offering them a more easy checkout way in our stores.”
The company says customers always will have an option to use a traditional checkout with a human cashier. The store offers at least one traditional checkout option even during the slowest shopping times.
Shopping in the West Main Street Walmart last week, Beverly Holley, dietary manager at Sanctuary Hospice, said she couldn’t use the self-service checkout when buying items for work. A cashier must remove tax on items bought for the nonprofit organization. However, she picks whichever methods appears fastest when she buys for herself.
“I’m kind of an in-and-out kind of person,” she said.
Walmart stores in Tupelo assign one sales associate to monitor the four self-checkouts in case customers need assistance. With fewer cashiers at checkouts, automated checkouts could help the corporate giant eliminate labor costs.
Walmart insists fewer cashiers at the front ringing up purchase items could mean increased service for shoppers.
“With more customers using self-checkout options, that has the potential to make more associates available to assist customers and restocking our shelves,” Whaling said.
While many corporate retail and grocery stores expand self-checkouts, Damon Palmer, owner of Palmer’s Supermarket in east Tupelo, said customers there won’t need the machines in the locally owned grocery store. He said customer relationships and service provided for decades separate the store from larger, corporate chains.
“For us, we’d rather have a little more personal interaction and use an employee to attend to customers, even take their groceries out,” Palmer said.
Back in the corporate world of Walmart, the company has started a pilot stage for another way customers can shop and pay inside the store. In a limited number of stores, the company has started testing a “scan and go” option, allowing customers to use their smartphones to scan items as they shop.
This option allows customers to keep up with online shopping lists they create and track spending as they shop. Instead of scanning items at a checkout, a Walmart smartphone application would communicate total costs of purchases at a self-checkout.
The company has no time schedule for when in-store smartphone shopping could be offered in Tupelo.
Leon Blackshear, 80, may not be ready for smartphone shopping but admits to enjoying self-checkouts. Instead of using the checkout option to save time, he has the opposite approach.
“I can just pull up there and take my time,” said Blackshear, who uses a motorized cart to shop. “I don’t feel rushed.”