Supermarket Self-Checkout And Loyalty

I came across a study conducted by researchers at Drexel University , (well one is an alum that teaches at University of San Diego), on whether using the self-checkout lane at a supermarket results in less loyalty than using the lane where the employee processes purchases.

I was curious to see if there are any lessons to be learned for arts ticketing in terms of online purchasing vs. in person purchasing. Even though a large portion of tickets are sold online, something I have noticed over the last five years or so is that greatest concentration of ticket sales in a period of time tends to generally be during the hours the ticket office is open.  I was hoping to get some insight into whether there might be a trend toward people wanting more personal contact during the purchase experience.   In the context of increasing conversations about loneliness, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine a shift away from interacting only with machines.

The researchers conducted studies with five slightly different designs to try to control for things like what people were accustomed to doing at the supermarket, whether people felt rewarded for the choice of check out, number of items being purchased, and intentionally priming participants mindset by reading different texts before going shopping.

Basically, while people who felt they were being rewarded for using self-check out, whether it was due to some benefit or being primed by a reading passage, tended to feel more loyalty and satisfaction as a result, the biggest factor was actually number of items being purchased.  The more people exceeded approximately 15 items, the less satisfied and supported they felt by the supermarket while using the self-check lane.

That seems pretty logical given the small amount of space you are provided to bag and stage groceries in a self-check out lane. The more items one purchases, the greater opportunity to encounter errors. I imagine this is even more likely when trying to ring up produce which may not have been effectively labeled or indexed for look up. Often there is only one person monitoring 10-15 checkout stations and you have to wait while the staff member assists others.

The researchers note there is a lot more research about self-check out that needs to be done since there are many factors in play. Some researchers have looked into issues like perception that you are contributing to the loss of jobs by doing self-checkout. Then there is the related question about why you aren’t getting any incentive to do an employee’s job. I have seen some great videos for clothing self checkouts where people experienced a great deal of frustration removing the anti-theft tags on top of having to remove hangers, fold and bag.

Probably the clearest lesson here for arts organizations is that people need assistance the more complicated their transactions become so you always need to provide an opportunity for purchasers to speak to a live person.  Certainly it is frequently impractical to provide live assistance 24 hours a day, but having the availability of live help posted clearly and repeatedly can help people feel supported.

This may sound blatantly obvious, but in the last few months I was in a conversation in which someone commented that venues in some countries have completely ended staffed box office hours outside of performances. I may be misremembering slightly and the phones were staffed and there are no walk up interactions.  Certainly, other countries have different cultural expectations  about customer service.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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