A User-Centred Design Approach to Self Checkout

Keywords: User research, service design, team leadership
Role: Lead Designer with Design Against Crime


With the rapid increase in self checkouts, supermarkets are struggling with high levels of theft at automated tills. Our client started with a question, “How can we re-design supermarkets to decrease theft?”

Through collaborative workshops with various supermarkets participating in the project, we re-framed the brief to ask, “How can we improve customer experience, host-wellbeing, and take a more user-centred approach to the self checkout experience?”

Co-Designing the Brief with the client


Understanding that (most of) these supermarkets were new to user-centred design approaches and user research methodologies, we took a generative research approach which could focus on developing inspiration for future research and design projects.

Our methods included interviews with shoppers, immersion visits shadowing hosts on-the-job, complemented by interviews with staff across the organisations. We hoped to gather data which could tell us more about the many different ways users experience self-checkout, learning behaviours as well as understanding attitudes about needs and pain points associated with the process.

Developing interview scripts collaboratively

Because we were researching across Northern England, London and Brussels, it was important to create a robust framework which we could apply across fieldwork visits, to help us compare and find themes across these diverse retail contexts.

Working in the context of crime, we also borrowed upon criminology frameworks such as 25 techniques of situational crime prevention, especially during ideation and analysis.

We Learned

Our insights from the research included:

“No one realises there’s a difference between cash vs. card-only tills until they’ve scanned their whole basket.” - A supermarket host

Shadowing and interviewing with hosts Mapping the self checkout process

We Designed

Through synthesising our research and working closely with our clients throughout the process, it became clear there was a need to: map the user journey, distinguish how different shoppers and hosts experience the journey (create personas), and develop problem scenarios. Rather than “solve” the problem, we wanted to create a framework for future research, design and delivery.

Mapping the user journey Developing interview scripts collaboratively


Mapping the user journey and facilitating an evidence-led approach to understanding self-checkout as a service was “transformative” for our clients. The notion of walking through the journey, empathising with different users, and understanding how touchpoints related to one another, helped to frame self checkout as a service rather than a product. The impact of this project was high-level, it was about encouraging new ways of working. Organizational shifts require a lot of collaboration, and time. In terms of impact, so far we’ve seen at least 2 of the participatory retailers have started building out their design and research teams. When the final report is released to the wider retail community, we hope to add to this response.

Next Time

Given that our research context was so wide, from rural supermarkets to city centre express shops, managing the amount of data we collected during fieldwork was difficult. In addition, our team was large. We had service designers, product designers and researchers all conducting research. I think next time I would: