My Fickle Love Affair With Self-checkouts


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Cynics say there’s no such thing as love at first sight, but I beg to differ. The first time I saw a store with self-checkout, I swooned. Six shiny little check stands with cute little lights and fancy touch screens glistened in the space where the grocery store once shelved magazines. I don’t know (or care) where the magazines ended up . . . the point was that I got to be IN CONTROL of my grocery ringing up. And secretly, I’d always wondered how fun it was to scan all those bar codes. That turned out to be a little bit of a letdown, but overall, the self-checkout quickly became my favorite thing about the grocery store.

I’ve been accused in the past of being a tiny bit of a control freak. While there may be some truth to that, I think it’s actually that I just hate dealing with slow or incompetent people. Some friendly checkers like to have conversations about their cute grandkids, the latest recipe that includes whatever groceries I’m buying, etc. Sometimes this is fine – I have all day to sit and chat. Other times I just want to get on with it.

Self-checkouts let me have the control I so desire. They make it possible for me to grab a gallon of milk and loaf of bread and whip through the checkout speedily (thanks to my considerable skill and grocery scanning speed).

While there is much good to say about self-checkouts, there are some problems, too.

Keep ‘em operational

There’s nothing worse than a broken self-checkout. The worst offenders are the ones that let you scan all our purchases, but then the credit card reader is broken. Or the dollar bill acceptor won’t take the money. And if there’s no one around to help finish the transaction, you have to gather up all your stuff again and schlep it over to the manned cash register, where you stand in line for another 10 minutes before you can leave. Argh.

Price Inaccuracies

If you have difficulty managing price changes through your automated cash register system, stay away from self-checkouts. If I’m buying a cute shirt because it’s on sale and I scan the tag, only to find that it comes up at full price, I’m not happy.

10 Items or Less?

People should not be buying 2 weeks’  worth of groceries at a self-check stand. Especially not if they have 32 produce items. It always seems to be the “slow” people who do this… the ones who aren’t quite competent enough to be checking groceries.

Staff Your Self-Checkouts

All of the above issues could be at least mitigated by having an employee present to help customers through the check-out process. The employee (or Goddess of Self-Checkout Land) should be able to make pricing adjustments, take care of payments if the system isn’t working and keep gently guide people with 85 items to the manned checkout. You’re still saving on labor costs, since one employee can usually handle five or six self-check out registers. And your customers will be happy to have their issues quickly solved.