Shopping for guest self-service: Hotels can pick up ideas from retail

While some new generation hotel managers are still trying to figure out how to solve the self-check and self-checkout procedures, other industries have come quite far in offering similar services to their customers. We have looked at the airline industry in the past. But today let’s look at an industry  people use on a more regular basis: the retail industry. In particular, the supermarket.

Having spent six months in England, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the supermarket chains have implemented self-checkout terminals. For traditional shoppers, the stores still offer a standard check-out procedure. After researching hotel self-checkout options, I was curious to try the self-checkout at the supermarket. After all, I hadn’t found any in my home country of Germany.

My expectations were not high. I assumed that the supermarkets put those stations there to save on personnel, not to increase convenience for the customer.

M&S

Without going into too much detail, I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the simplicity and speed of these self-checkout terminals. What’s more, they were fun to use. In fact, it was hard to get anything wrong. I merely had to take my items out of the shopping basket and put them into bags. The machine is equipped with multiple scanners and mirrors so that it almost always found and scanned the bar code right away. Paying was easy too. Cash, credit card, debit cards all worked easily. I could even get cash back with my debit card. Dropping coins into the moving tray (instead of the ubiquitous slot) was downright fun.

Those hotels with kiosks have discovered that self-service check-in and check-out works fine if everything is standard: guest is identified, reservation is unchanged, room is clean and vacant, credit card is valid and so on. As soon as something is slightly unusual – such as two ro

oms with two different names, extended stay, change of payment type, room upgrade, room not ready – the hotel kiosks can’t handle it and the guest has to use the standard check-in.

But the supermarket self-checkout station had no trouble with special cases. If I forget to bag an item, the scale under the bags notices right away and a voice tells me to bag the item or cancel the purchase of that item. If the bar code can’t be read easily, the machine prompts me to type in the product number. If an item doesn’t have a bar code, e.g. fresh produce, I just place it down on the scale, select it from a menu of produce, and then pop it in the bag. If I have a coupon, I just scan it like any other item and the machine processes it correctly. If I change my mind or replace a product last minute, the process is quite intuitive. I’ve used these kiosks at least one hundred times and haven’t run into a problem yet.

The only times I couldn’t complete the transaction on my own was when I bought a bottle of wine. A member of the staff had to come over and swipe their own card, acknowledging that I was entitled to buy alcohol.

The supermarkets have understood that self-check still requires store personnel to be around and help out from time to time. Even if it’s just a bit of friendly banter, the stores don’t want to lose the human interaction altogether.

I’m sure we’ll see the supermarket self-checkout station continue to evolve. As NFC tags (or a similar technology) gets cheap enough to tag every product, we can just pass our shopping cart through a gate and everything is scanned instantly.

Several new generation hoteliers are moving towards mobile apps so that the guest can bypass the kiosk altogether. But a well-designed kiosk can be fun and fast for the guest and still allow interaction with the hotel staff. Unfortunatel

y, most hotel kiosks today are neither fun, nor fast, nor capable of handling special cases. Which is why most hotel kiosks are also unused.

Hotel managers could learn a great deal from the successful supermarket check-out stations.

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