SOS! Saving Our Self-Checkout: Innovative Design Solutions to "Rehumanise" the Retail Experience

Last year, supermarket chain Booths announced it was removing self-checkouts from most stores. “We’re not great fans,” it said, heralding a return to tills manned by human beings.

Now a new report from ECR Retail Loss explores people-centred design interventions to improve the self-checkout experience while cutting frustration and the risk of losses.

 Young designers from University of the Arts London, worked with Britain’s top supermarkets to develop a series of in-store innovations that put humans, rather than technology, first.

The final report Rehumanising the Self-Checkout Experience, available to download from the ECR Retail Loss website, showcases the five most promising designs.

Each design solution has the potential to tackle real-world issues at self-checkout—a now ubiquitous technology that many supermarkets fear is contributing to rising retail losses.

And the results of the research are already having an impact on the loss-reduction strategies of leading retailers.

Victoria Glenn, Project Manager at Tesco, says:  "I collaborated with these remarkable students for 6 months, from brainstorming ideas through to completion.

 “We’ve incorporated their innovative ideas into our business, resulting in several exciting initiatives planned for next year”

Mike Beach, Head of Loss Prevention & Change at Sainsbury’s, says: “This has absolutely hit the brief in terms of our current strategies and pain points. It’s a great help.”

This groundbreaking research resulted from a collaboration of ECR Retail Loss with Product and Industrial Design students at University of the Arts London (UAL).

"This exciting project coincided with what many experienced as the Year of the Shoplifter. We wanted to find creative ways to address that,” says Prof Lorraine Gamman of UAL and the Design Against Crime Research Centre.

The young designers explored human-centred design approaches to address key issues affecting self-checkout systems. These include technology frustration, boredom, lack of personal interaction, and concerns over job losses and social redundancy.

Working with retail partners including Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, the designers employed the four-dimensional Security Function Framework—encompassing Purpose, Security Niche, Mechanism, and Technicality—to develop their innovative concepts.

The report highlights five solutions using what designer and co-author Jeffrey Doruff calls "Sideways Thinking". Each is poised to revolutionise the self-checkout experience:

MyCheckout: An app-based loyalty system allowing shoppers to personalise their self-checkout experience, speeding up the process during each store visit. Watch the MyCheckout video here.

Avatar Checkout: Using Augmented Reality, this solution focuses on actions over appearance, enhancing video surveillance while safeguarding customer privacy. Watch the Avatar Checkout video here.

Fast and Less Furious: A barcode system designed for quicker interventions in age/ID verification and item overrides, increasing human interaction. Watch the Fast and Less Furious video here.

Reducipe: Offers personalised recipe suggestions based on the customer’s basket, printed on receipts to promote loyalty, engagement, and sustainable shopping habits. Watch the Reducipe video here.

Ease: An innovative till-lighting system creating an efficient queuing system for assistance, providing self-checkout hosts with clear visual cues for required help. Watch the Ease video here.

“We could not be more delighted with the results of this collaboration and we’re proud to share the five design ideas,”, says John Fonteijn, Chair of ECR Retail Loss Group.

"These student-designed solutions are set to inspire retailers globally to reimagine the future of self-checkout, balancing security needs with an enriched customer experience.”

The full report is available to download free click here.

To see the story of the project, click to view this short video.


Feb 10, 2024