Consumer Confidential: Self-checkouts, online videos, free checking
--Do you find self-checkouts at the supermarket to be more hassle than they're worth? So do some supermarkets. Big Y Foods, which has 61 locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, recently became one of the latest to announce it was phasing out the self-serve lanes. Some other regional chains and major players, including some Albertsons locations, have also reduced their unstaffed lanes and added more clerks to traditional lanes. Studies cited by the Food Marketing Institute found only 16% of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option. That's down from a high of 22% three years ago. Clearly most shoppers still favor the human touch.
--There's more scrambling afoot in the online-video world. Netflix has inked a pact with DreamWorks Animation SKG giving it exclusive pay-TV distribution rights for first-run films starting with the studio's 2013 lineup, while Amazon.com landed a deal with 20th Century Fox to provide movies and TV shows to bring its Amazon Prime streaming service to more than 11,000 titles. Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed. Netflix is struggling to retain subscribers after raising prices and splitting the company into two separate services. Last week, satellite-TV provider Dish Network resurrected its Blockbuster brand as a streaming service.
--Free checking has become an endangered species. But it's still out there. A new study by Bankrate.com finds that only 45% of checking accounts are free this year. That's down sharply from 65% last year and 76% two years ago. But the study also found that most banks are willing to waive monthly fees when customers meet certain conditions. For example, customers may have to set up direct deposit or maintain a certain balance. The study also found that the average cost for using an out-of-network ATM rose slightly to $3.81. That's including the fees charged by the customer's own bank and the ATM operator.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: Supermarket shoppers go through the traditional checkout. Credit: Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times