I have been a customer of Fidelity Investments for over 10 years. Since the internet began to take off, Fidelity has done a great job developing web based tools for making customer service more “self service”. It’s actually faster and easier for me to use their website than to call customer service for things like changing my address, ordering checks, etc. Likewise, I find the new self-service check-in kiosks at airports to be very convenient and most importantly, a better alternative to waiting in line.
I bring up these examples because of my frustration with the automated checkout machines at the Home Depot, especially the West Roxbury MA store which I frequent. Home Depot has been increasingly phasing in these machines in favor of regular check-out stations, especially for the late night shifts when automated checkout is often the only option. These machines are a huge step backwards in customer service. When they actually work, they are extremely finicky, can’t handle complicated or competitor coupons and are sub optimal for the types of items that people buy at Home Depot, many of which have a measurement or weight component that determines price. Also, many items won’t fit in the special holding area on the machine which uses the weight of the product to verify that you have purchased it, thereby producing an error and getting the attendant involved. Additionally, as soon as a person has a problem, it pretty much shuts down the whole line. It’s gotten to the point where the lines are so bad on a crowded day, that I have started driving further to Lowe’s just to avoid the checkout hassle. If Home Depot is keen on this technology, they should restrict it to “quick checkout” purchases and more adequately staff their registers so that customers can make their purchases in a reasonable period of time. Technology for technology sake is often the quickest way to lose a customer.