OXFORD, Swindon & Gloucester Co-op have notched up another ?first' by becoming the only UK retailer to install self-scanning check-out facilities in a convenience store.
The launch of the U-Scan scheme at the Swift Shop in Walton Street, Oxford ? directly opposite the city's Radcliffe Hospital in an area frequented by tourists and students ? means that the society now uses the high tech facility in five stores altogether, though the other four are in larger supermarkets.
The society introduced the system to combat difficulties in recruiting staff and say the facility is proving popular with customers as it helps cut down queues at check-outs.
Bill Laird, OSG's group general manager, retail, said: "We have been delighted with the success of the self-scan till system since it was introduced at our largest supermarket in Carterton just before Christmas.
"The high level of customer adoption to date has given us the confidence to introduce it in a much smaller but equally busy environment.
"In fact our Swift Shop in Walton Street, at 2,000 sq ft, has the highest level of sales per foot in the society and among the highest in the Movement."
Low levels of unemployment across Oxfordshire has meant that recruitment for all retailers, regardless of size, is extremely difficult.
This means regular shortages of staff at key times, leading to inevitable queues in-store at busy lunchtimes and evenings. This has a knock-on effect on store staff with continual pressure and stress. Customers who try to shop during lunchtimes also feel stressed because they are waiting in queues, no matter where they go.
Swift Shop manager Mark Dawson said: "You only have to walk down Cornmarket, the busiest shopping area in town, to see the number of shops and stores that are continually advertising for staff, to understand how difficult it is for retailers in Oxford."
"This is bad news for employers and worse news for customers who have little time to wait in long queues. We have already seen a substantial reduction in customer waiting times since we introduced self scan and the launch in mid-summer is during our quieter time when the student population is on holiday. This will be a real surprise for them when they return."
Added Mr Laird: "The most dramatic evidence we have of the success of the system as far as our customers are concerned is the age profile of those who use the system. The whole spectrum of customer age groups are now using the self check-outs; from pre-teens to senior citizens.
"The system has been designed to be easily understood and very customer friendly. There is always a member of the store team on hand to assist customers with their purchases and of course for those wishing for the more traditional, personal touch, there are always staffed check-outs available in all of our stores."
OSG Co-op is now planning to expand the facility to other stores later in the year in partnership with Optimal Robotics UK, which will make the society the first UK retailer to commit to a commercial roll-out of the system.
Retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Somerfield are still in the trial and evaluation stage of the process.