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msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/10/2011 8:03:39 PM ET 2011-07-11T00:03:39

One of the nation's major grocery store chains is eliminating self-checkout lanes in an effort to encourage more human contact with its customers.

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Albertsons LLC, which operates 217 stores in seven Western and Southern states, will eliminate all self-checkout lanes in the 100 stores that have them and will replace them with standard or express lanes, a spokeswoman said.

"We just want the opportunity to talk to customers more," Albertsons spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said. "That's the driving motivation."

Privately held Albertsons LLC operates stores in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. To find a store, click here.

The move does not affect stores operated by grocery giant Supervalu, which operates more than 450 Albertsons stores in 16 states including Nevada, southern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Wilcox said the replacement of automated checkout lanes with human-operated lanes likely would mean more hours available for employees to work.

The move marks a surprising step back from a trend that began about a decade ago, when supermarkets began installing self-checkout lanes, touting them as a solution to long lines. Now some grocery chains are questioning whether they are really good for business.

Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S. (with some 2,500 outlets), is experimenting with removing all self-checkouts in at least one Texas store, reports StorefrontBacktalk, an industry publication. Publix, another major chain, is "on the fence" about self-checkout, according to a report quoted in the story.

Self-checkout industry leader NCR Corp., which counts Albertsons among its clients, does not see the grocery chain's move as a threat to its business, said company spokesman Cameron Smith.

He said more than 150 retailers in 22 countries use the company's self-checkout lanes, and not just for groceries. The market is projected to grow by about 15 percent annually, he said.

"Ultimately, customers appreciate the choice of self-checkout," he said.

Do you agree? Weigh in below.

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