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Self-checkout at the checkout is on the rise – what does this mean for packaging?

Self-checkout at the checkout is on the rise – what does this mean for packaging?

Self-checkout systems are also becoming more widespread in Germany. In 2021, there were still 2,310 stores with SCO offerings; by 2023, this figure had risen to 5,010. This means that the number has increased by 117% in just two years. It can be assumed that this trend will continue. What does this mean for packaging?


In this article, we look at the advance of self-checkouts and how manufacturers need to adapt their packaging accordingly.

The central ideas behind self-checkout systems

Self-checkout systems primarily serve to increase customer satisfaction. They enable faster processing of purchases. This is particularly beneficial for customers whose shopping basket is only filled with a few products. Instead of queuing at a traditional checkout, they can quickly scan and pay for their goods themselves at one of the self-service machines. There are generally several self-service checkouts available, so the waiting time is usually kept to a minimum. Apart from increased customer satisfaction, self-checkout systems have another advantage for retailers: staff savings.

Typical structure of a self-checkout checkout

The most widespread SCO system currently in use is the stationary self-checkout. It usually consists of a screen, one or more scanning options and a card reader for payment. In some cases, there is also a cash payment device. The screen acts as a kind of navigator. It guides the customer visually and acoustically through the scanning and payment process and offers various input options. These relate, for example, to the quantity of the respective product or the redemption of discounts. When scanning, the customer passes the goods one after the other over the scanner integrated into the self-service checkout. Sometimes they can also use a hand scanner if they wish.

Alternative self-service systems

In addition to the dominant variant described above, there are also other self-service systems. In some cases, customers can scan the goods at the shelf or shopping cart and pay either at a checkout or at a self-service machine. Work is also underway to integrate the smartphone into the shopping process in order to create a mixture of digital and analog shopping experience for the customer.

Distribution of stationary self-service checkouts by sector

With a share of over 60%, food retailers still account for the majority of stores where customers can use stationary self-service checkouts. However, drugstores and DIY stores now also account for 15 percent each. Due to their customer structure and frequency, as well as their shopping basket sizes, these two sectors are just as suitable for self-checkout systems as the food retail sector.

Importance of SCO checkouts for packaging

Brands and packaging agencies have the task of adapting the packaging to this specific situation so that the benefits of a self-checkout checkout can really be fully realized and the process can run smoothly on site. The following aspects in particular need to be taken into account:

– Readability of the codes
– Placement of the codes
– Size of the codes
– Type of packaging
– Reflections

Readability of the codes

Optimum readability of the codes, especially of the product-specific barcode, is the basic prerequisite for a perfectly functioning SCO system and is therefore even more important than before. Only if the codes can be easily read by any scanner can the self-checkout be carried out as quickly as desired.

Placement of the codes

Trained cashiers who scan thousands of products every day develop a feeling and, over time, a knowledge and routine of where the relevant code is located. The situation is logically different for customers. For them, scanning is an unfamiliar activity. To prevent consumers from having to turn each item in all directions at the SCO checkout until they see the barcode, it should always be in an intuitively easy-to-find location. The main challenge for brands now lies in combining this point with an aesthetically pleasing packaging design. After all, the brand image should not be compromised by a functional barcode.

Size of the codes

The same applies to the size of the codes as to their placement. Here, too, it is crucial to optimize the feature with regard to the self-checkout systems without disrupting the general packaging design. However, the codes should be of an acceptable size so that they can also be easily recognized by people with impaired vision.

Type of packaging

The shape and material of the packaging clearly also play a key role in being able to implement the criteria mentioned in the best possible way. For example, pouch packaging made from film that tends to crease is at a massive disadvantage in this respect, while solid, smooth packaging materials are successful.


It is also important to avoid reflections on the packaging as far as possible in order to prevent interference during scanning. To this end, it is advisable to avoid shiny surfaces, among other things. Foil and metal packaging can sometimes be critical.


Self-checkout tills in grocery stores as well as drugstores and DIY stores are becoming increasingly popular. The number is likely to increase further in the coming years. Accordingly, it is essential for brands and packaging agencies to adapt the design of product packaging in general and the legibility, placement and size of the codes in particular to the specific requirements associated with the scanning of items by customers.

Source for the figures in this article: EHI Retail Institute

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