Trader Joe’s responds to rumors it plans to add self-checkout

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Trader Joe's doesn't plan on replacing its human checkout experience with machines anytime soon.

In the "Inside Trader Joe’s" podcast shared on Aug. 14, the company's CEO, Bryan Palbaum, refuted rumors that the company plans to add self-checkout lines.

Jon Basalone, the president and vice CEO of Trader Joe's, added that the rumor was as "false as false can be."

"Because we believe in people and we’re not trying to get rid of our crew members for efficiency sake or whatever the, I don’t know what the reasons are people put self-checkout in," Basalone said.

Palbaum added that self-checkouts are "not fun."

"I have fun bagging groceries and working at the register. Self-checkout is work," he said. "I don’t want that."

Basalone went on to say he recently had a self-checkout experience in another store that confused even him.

"I was in a store, and I couldn’t get the thing to scan ... and then the person came over and was trying to explain to me," he recounted. "I’m like, I do this for a living, and I can’t get this thing to work!"

A 2021 survey of 1,000 shoppers by tech company Raydiant found reactions to self-checkouts are mixed. While 67% of shoppers reported having had one fail when using self-checkout, 60% of consumers said they still prefer the machines over store associates.

Earlier this year, Kroger, one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, converted one of its stores to only offer self-checkout. Other retailers like Walmart and Dollar General are also experimenting with self-checkout machines.

Stew Leonard Jr., who owns seven stores of the same name in the New York area, says he has noticed an obvious trend in those who prefer the high-tech checkout.

"The younger people embrace it and love to use it more than older people," he told NBC News earlier this month. "I don't see much gray hair in the self-checkout line."

He says 75% of his customers prefer to check out with an associate, so for now, he is keeping cashiers.

A 2023 report from FMI, the food industry association that represents retailers, wholesalers and food suppliers, suggests that "self-checkouts increased significantly in 2018 but have since leveled off."

In an emailed statement to TODAY.com, Heather Garlich from FMI said 60% of transactions in the industry go through a cashier while nearly 30% go through the self-checkout, with the remaining percentage going through express lanes.

Garlich added that Trader Joe's is not a member of FMI and was not part of its annual survey.

Trader Joe's, despite its popularity, has bucked other trends as well. The privately held company also doesn't do grocery delivery or offer any online options to shop.

In the podcast, Basalone and Palbaum joked about making upgrades to the stores — quipping they could swap in tuxedo T-shirts for the staff's classic aloha shirts — but said they still plan to expand the company, even while doing more of the same.

"We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, but we’re going to grow, " Basalone explained, adding that new customers and products are what keep things exciting. "That’s where the excitement comes from. You know, it’s not crazy new ideas like the robot in the aisle that answers questions and helps to clean up spills. It’s simpler than that and actually more exciting than that because of that reason."


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