Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Self-Service Checkouts: Going DIY to beat the labour crunch

Supermarkets, corporations offering discounts, giveaways to encourage consumers to adopt self-service technologies
By Toh Ee Ming, TODAY 8 Nov 2015

In a bid to galvanise more Singaporeans into using self-service counters, several supermarket chains and large retailers will be rolling out various promotions and discounts.

This is part of a new national campaign, called “We Are InDIYpendent”, a National Productivity Council (NPC) initiative that aims to encourage greater adoption of self-service technologies amid the growing labour crunch and increasingly competitive business environment.

“With the Singaporean workforce ageing, we have the option of getting foreign workers to supplement the (workforce) ... But we believe the best option forward is to introduce the concept of DIY through technologies, to make it easy and friendly so the public will not be as fearful,” Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said today (Nov 8).

He was speaking on the sidelines of the campaign’s launch at NTUC FairPrice in NEX shopping centre.

Parliamentary Secretary (Trade and Industry) Low Yen Ling added: “Consumers are becoming more sophisticated and empowered ... DIY is the way to go in terms of time saved, and (less energy) required.”

Under the campaign, supermarkets such as Cold Storage and Sheng Siong will be offering a 3 per cent discount, for instance.

Other corporations such as Changi Airport Group and Golden Village are jumping on the bandwagon too, offering travel-related giveaways and movie privileges and discounts respectively.

This comes amid the Trade and Industry Ministry’s latest productivity push. Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched a new self-checkout counter that accepts both cash and credit payment at Cold Storage.

Mr Tharman, who is the NPC chairman, said he envisioned a future scenario of self-checkout and automated cash systems across the retail scene, and called on shoppers to “shift their habits” towards the self-service route.

NTUC FairPrice deputy chief executive officer (operations) Gerry Lee said today that FairPrice has scaled up such efforts over the last few years: “With this, our staff can focus on assisting (shoppers) in more customer-oriented ways.”

So far, FairPrice has 170 self-checkout counters in 36 stores island-wide, which account for 15 per cent of transactions at each store.

With one employee manning six self-checkout counters, the need for manpower is reduced, and cashiering productivity has increased by 100 per cent, on average, according to FairPrice, which plans to roll out counters that accept cash payments in 30 more stores by next year.

Likewise, in June, Sheng Siong introduced hybrid self-checkout systems that accept cash, NETS or cards.

These self-payment systems alleviate stress among front-line staff who no longer need to handle cash, or when they are tallying the takings, said Sheng Siong Group chief executive officer Lim Hock Chee.

It is also easier to rotate staff, as less training is needed, and there is more flexibility in deploying staff away from full cashiering services to do scanning and packing. Such systems will be rolled out to eight more of its stores by year end.

But Singapore is some way from being a DIY-savvy population. An online survey the NPC commissioned in July, involving 1,000 people, found that 40 per cent of the respondents were unaware of existing self-service facilities.

Fear of holding up the queue and uncertainty of using such machines were some of the top reasons why people were reluctant to use such options. Some first-time users TODAY spoke to voiced similar concerns.

Madam Ong, 55, a housewife, found it difficult to use the scanner, which she said was sometimes unable to detect the items, and had to ask the attendants for help.

She added: “There needs to be clearer instructions pasted at the checkout; if not, the process will end up being twice as slow.” And while people such as Madam Ling, 42, a part-time administrator, had no issue with using the machines, she said would still go back to the cashiers: “If the queue is short, I’ll go to the cashier ... At least, they can help to pack into bags; it’s easier for me.”

Others called for greater flexibility, in terms of using vouchers upon payment, or for machines to accept more than single-basket purchases. Madam Pauline Foo, an administrator, prefers the convenience of such checkout systems, however. “Initially, I had a hard time, but after a few times, it was much easier,” she said.

“Sometimes, the cashier is just so tied up, or the price list is not there (so they have to go and check) ... It makes the wait very long. Also, I can pack the things the way I want to, instead of the cashier just piling everything into one bag.” As part of the campaign, which will run until next month, people spotted using the self-service facilities can get rewards.

There will be YouTube videos on DIY culture, as well as advertisements at bus stops, to introduce other forms of self-service in dining and entertainment, for instance. The NPC hopes to reach out to as many people as possible.

Did you miss the action yesterday? #TeamMichelle (Lim Swee Say and Michelle Chong) and #TeamSuhaimi (Low Yen Ling and...
Posted by Ministry of Trade & Industry on Sunday, November 8, 2015

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