By Terry Leavitt
CONWAY — Shaw's Supermarket has removed the four self-checkout lanes from its North Conway store.
The switch happened quietly two weeks ago, and the space has been filled with two new express lanes, bringing the total number of checkout lanes at the store to 12.
Although one source at the store mentioned that the checkouts were removed because of problems with theft, and another employee said there had continally been problems with the scanners not working, corporate officials would not comment directly on those statements.
Teresa Edington, external communication and community relations manager at Shaw's Supermarket's corporate offices in Massachusetts, released the following statement in response to an inquiry about the matter:
"At Shaw's and Star Market, our goal is to provide the best personal service to each and every customer that shop in our stores.
"Our customers are front-of-mind in any decision we make, from the products we carry to the way that we process their orders as they're leaving our store.
"For each and every one of our stores, we are constantly evaluating the checkout systems, including self-checkout, express lanes, etc.
"The decision to remove self-checkout is made on a store-by-store basis. And our decision to evaluate and remove any self-checkout lanes comes down to ensuring that we can provide the best customer experience."
Shaw's chain, which began in 1860 with one small store in Portland, Maine, today has 154 stores throughout New England.
It has been owned since 2013 by the Idaho-based Albertsons Companies, one of the largest food-and-drug retailers in the United States, with more than 2,000 stores nationwide.
Self-checkout lanes have become increasingly common in stores.
According to a 2016 report from NCR Corp., a business that manufactures checkout machines, automated teller machines, self-service kiosks, barcode scanners and similar equipment for businesses, self-checkout lanes make up a sizable and growing portion of the checkouts at grocery stores, big box stores like Walmart and home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot.
Self-checkout units can also be found in some convenience stores, department stores, pharmacies and specialty stores.
Both Lowe's and Walmart in North Conway have self-checkout lanes.
Hannaford Supermarket does not have any self-checkout lanes at this time, but a source at the North Conway store said the company is planning to install two to four units in April.
That person said self-checkouts come with pros and cons. On the positive side, they can increase efficiency at checkout, particularly for people with smaller purchases.
On the down side, they can be a source of theft, both deliberate and unintentional, when people do not scan items correctly. Although they do need to be supervised, both for theft and to assist customers having problems with the machines, the machines can save companies money and can mean shorter waiting lines for people, particularly when stores experience unexpected surges in numbers of customers at the checkout line, the Hannaford source said.
Many stores have supervisors watching the self-checkout lanes, as well as video surveillance of the lanes.
One of the employees at Walmart said the terminal he mans in the self-checkout corral at the North Conway store can show everything everyone is scanning at any particular time. There are also video cameras in the ceiling.
Similarly, the Lowe's store in North Conway has an employee monitoring and assisting customers with the self-checkout machines.