At one time, Webster’s Marketplace had no interest in installing self-checkout lanes.
But times change as the grocery store is putting the finishing touches on a new addition that aims to enhance the shopping experience.
Around Valentine’s Day, Webster’s Marketplace hopes to open its newly-installed self-checkout lines to customers.
The business plans to do internal testing on the machines this week to ensure they are ready for guest use by the week of Valentine’s Day.
If you had asked Webster’s owner Candie Baker about self-checkout lanes 18 months ago, she would have responded that self-checkouts weren’t a good fit for Webster’s, which is known for its reputation of strong customer service.
Since then, she’s been overwhelmed by the amount of inquiries the store has received in favor of adding self-checkout lanes.
“We, as a store, averaged two to three requests per week asking for them,” she said. “It surprised me.”
To be responsive to customer demand, Webster’s felt it was necessary to add a self-checkout option.
“We are making this choice because, as a company, we strive to stay green and growing,” Baker said. “The year is 2022; the technology is there, and guests are asking for it.”
Webster’s will continue to offer full-service checkouts, with a cashier and bagger, as the self-checkouts are meant to be a complement to that service.
“If you’re a customer who wants full service, like we always do with a cashier and bagger, that will still happen,” Baker said. “And if you’re a customer who would prefer not to [use full-service checkout], whether it’s the size of their order or they’re on a business call, we have that, too.
“We think this will enhance our customer service, and we pride ourselves on our customer service.”
While it was not the intent when purchasing the equipment, the self-checkouts also may help reduce lines during the grocery store’s busy times, Baker noted.
She added that the grocery industry is evolving exponentially, and it is very different from the grocery business she entered into as a child working for her father.
“It bridges generations,” Baker said of the self-checkout lanes. “We feel that it keeps Webster’s relevant.”
Despite the changing industry, Webster’s intends to keep both the full-service checkouts and the self-checkouts operational for the foreseeable future.
“It is my intent to stay with the hybrid model, but I don’t know what the grocery business is going to look like 10 years from now,” Baker said. “For my foreseeable future, I feel the hybrid model is best for Webster’s because our customer service really does set us apart.”
The self-checkouts will have an employee assigned to them everyday to assist with any questions or concerns that may arise when a customer is checking their items out.
In addition, self-checkouts have payment limitations as individuals cannot pay with checks, according to Store Director Stephanie Sauerbrei.
She said individuals may use cash, debit, credit, EBT (food stamps) and WIC, but individuals must pay in full with EBT.
“You can’t split EBT and cash,” Sauerbrei said. “If it comes down to that, we can suspend the order and we’ll have a master register where the attendant can finish the transaction, so the customer doesn’t have to jump in line at a register.”
While the decision to add self-checkout lanes was fueled by community demand, Baker noted it has the potential to help the store amid a labor shortage.
“The fact of the matter is, we are hiring all over our store,” she said. “… We are in a labor crunch like everyone else.”
She added that individuals may visit Webster’s website to learn about employment opportunities within the organization.
While the self-checkouts should hopefully enhance the customer experience for those in a hurry, Baker praised her full-service checkout employees for their work to provide quality customer care.
“We are so blessed at Webster’s with our team members,” she said. “People like that interaction and the grocery store is a social venue. … The best part is people who want that social interaction can have it, and those who don’t, have an option.”
Beyond preparing for the transition to self-checkouts, Webster’s also is celebrating its 35th-anniversary promotion named, “Webster’s Loves Local,” which runs from Thursday to Wednesday, March 16.
Baker said the store will give away $35,000 in gift cards from local businesses with a focus on local retailers and service providers.
“We had so much fun last year giving away gift cards to other local businesses, and the response was so positive from our guests and other businesses, that we are doing something very similar this year,” Baker said. “… We really believe that our community is better when we have the abundance mentality.
“The stronger and more vital all of our businesses are, the stronger and more vital our business is.”