3 Changes to Look For at the Checkout Line

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For a while, it looked like cashiers would keep disappearing and self-checkout would become ubiquitous. But retailers—supermarkets especially—are falling out love with self-checkout. They still love trying to tempt shoppers into impulse purchases and gather customer e-mail addresses at checkout, though.

Here are three interesting new trends affecting the checkout process today:

Disappearing Self-Checkout. The Albertson’s supermarket chain is getting rid of self-checkout at all locations, and Kroger is experimenting with no-self-checkout stores as well. Why? It’d seem like we’d reached a point where the systems have fewer and fewer glitches, and consumers had gotten used to self-checkout. Some customers even prefer it. (I’m one of them, for the most part.) But apparently, plenty of shoppers still hate it—older shoppers in particular, who remember a time when store managers knew their customers by name.

An Albertson’s spokeswoman explains the chain’s change of heart by stating a preference for “having express lanes where a person can actually talk with a checker and have a conversation and check out their groceries.” Which isn’t much of an explanation at all, because everybody had to know that the “conversation factor” would disappear when self-checkout lanes were installed way back when.

The more cynical-minded might wonder whether stores are getting rid of self-checkout because of the likelihood customers will avoid certain tricky purchases—alcohol, produce—when using those lanes. And giving a customer any reason to skip purchasing something is bad for business.

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Quirky Impulse-Purchase Temptations. Revamped Old Navy checkout areas are now loaded with quirky, inexpensive items customers may be tempted to pick up—Astronaut ice cream, Mad Libs, super hero lunch boxes—according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Seeing as customers at the revamped stores have been spending $1 or $2 more than usual, the bombardment of newfangled impulse items will probably become a mainstay of the checkout process—which is already muddled with loyalty program cards, requests for e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and store credit card signups, and receipts as long as your arm showing you how much you “saved” by shopping at that store.

(MORE: Checkout Line Conundrums: Should You Get the Extended Warranty? What About the Store Credit Card?)

Paperless Receipts. That last part of the checkout process is changing at several retailers, and the result is that the three-foot-long receipt is a goner, as is any paper receipt at all. Per USA Today, Nordstrom and Gap have begun offering to send e-receipts to customers’ e-mail addresses, rather than handing over the standard paper receipt that’s immediately relegated to the bottom of the pocketbook. Getting a receipt in digital fashion is somewhat convenient—no worries about mistakenly throwing it out, or not being able to find it—but it’s also just another way for the retailer to get your e-mail address and market products and promotions to you:

“It’s a subtle way of saying, ‘How can I invade your personal life but not offend you at the same time?’ I’ve got to give them credit — it’s a pretty ingenious act,” said Britt Beemer, a retail analyst and founder of America’s Research Group.

(MORE: ‘Breastaurants’ and 7 Other Hot Restaurant Trends)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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