Master Thesis on Self-checkouts in Grocery Stores Completed

Anita Stovner has completed her Master’s Thesis in STS: Science and Technology Studies with the title AUTOMATION IN GROCERY STORES: Domestication of self-checkouts counters at NTNU, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture for the academic spring semester 2022.

(Illustration from Canva)

Focus for thesis
This dissertation explores grocery store workers’ and customers’ use of self-checkout counters. The study takes place in Trondheim, Norway, at different grocery stores, and it aims to figure out how automation has influenced the sale and service sector. The main research question in this thesis is: How can self-checkout counters in grocery stores be understood from a user perspective?

The empirical material is based on three qualitative research methods: interviews,
observations, and spontaneous focus interviews. The data material was gathered from June to October 2021. Grounded Theory has inspired the analysis of the data material, subsequently based on Science and Technology Studies (STS) approaches of domestication theory and non-users.

My analysis showcases three overlapping aspects of self-checkouts. Control is the first aspect where the management controls the grocery store workers, and the store and workers control the customers. Trust is the second aspect. The management trusts the workers to do the right thing and follow the guidelines. Additionally, the store has implemented customer precautions because more customers started to steal after introducing self-checkouts. Efficiency is the last aspect. Self-checkouts brought efficiency to the stores because of the decreased waiting time. Some customers loved the self-checkouts, while others stated that the efficiency did not impact their choice between self-checkouts and regular registers. Furthermore, the analysis made it apparent how grocery store workers and customers understand the technology differently. I thus argue that to get a fuller picture of the technology of self-checkouts, it is essential to include both a user- and non-user perspective.

Relation to future of work
In the future, self-checkouts could be more widespread, and we could see fewer people in grocery stores. This could face some resistance from customers because grocery stores are seen as a social platform for some customers. The pathway for the sale and service sector is unsure. We already see tendencies towards this.

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