The Perils of Self-Checkout

Beware of bossy machines and shrewd cashiers.

Shopping at Safeway during rush hour can be as stressful as trying to program a DVR player. 

After selecting my grocery items, I stand in a lane, five customers deep, filled with overloaded carts moving at a pace slower than a chess game.  I notice a few brave souls with small orders using self-checkout.

For those whose haven’t been paying attention, the self-checkout is an automated register located near aisle one.  The customer scans, bags and pays for the purchases without the help of a cashier.  Sounds easy enough, but don’t let that fool you - self-checkout machines can be bossy.

I eye the machine with the trepidation of a kid receiving a flu vaccine. Don’t do it.  Remember the last time, says that little voice inside my head.  I had selected Spanish instead of English and ended up in a system loop, “Llame al attendant.”  I abandoned the items on the scanner and left the store.     

But today I have lots of motivation, and faster and shorter lines.  I refuse to be intimidated again.

I weave through other shoppers to reach self-checkout.  One cashier provides assistance for six machines.  With shrewd, beady eyes and painted on pants, she acts like a periscope on a submarine, constantly scanning and waiting for the slightest customer infraction. 

I step up to the self-checkout machine.  A computer-animated voice demands me to follow the directions on the screen.  First, I select English, not Spanish. 

Next, the annoying voice says, “Scan your item.  Place in shopping bag.”  This goes smoothly until I try to scan a bag of carrots - no bar code.

Oh God, now what? 

The attendant senses my confusion and saunters over.  “Have a problem?” she asks.

“Yeah, how do I scan vegetables?”

Mocking me with its simplicity, she places the carrots on the scale, enters her secret pin number, pushes four buttons, smirks and walks away. 

It is more difficult to repeat the process without her by my side.  Placing apples on the scale, I push the “No Barcode” icon and then “A” on the display screen for apples.  Forty separate icons appear.  Mackintosh, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Red Delicious...the list drones on.  Since the tiny label fell off the apple, I panic and push any button.  My face turns beet red and lips quiver.

Okay, just relax. 

 My items overflow the bagging area and I sling them into the cart.  The register shuts down with an error message, “See attendant.” 

The computer system alerts the cashier, she marches over, fixes the machine and reminds me, “You must leave the bags in the bagging area until you are finished, or the machine thinks you are stealing.”

If I knew so much, I’d be working here!

By this point, crowds pile up behind me as angry as the fans at an Oakland Raiders game.  Hyperventilating, I try my last item, a birthday card.  I run it over the scanner and slide it into the bagging area. 

The creepy computer voice reminds me, “Place item in bagging area.”

What the hell?

I catch the attention of the attendant for the final time.  She drags herself over, letting me know with the shake of her head that I am beyond help.

“The card is too light-weight.  The machine doesn’t know if you put it in the bagging area.”

She enters her secret pin number, pushes a button and walks away.

Finalizing my purchases, I scan my club card, enter the Visa, take the receipt, grab the last bag and leave the store in humiliation.  Didn’t even attempt to use a coupon. 

You’ve been warned.


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Phyllis McArthur July 01, 2012 at 12:02 AM
I too don't want to use these self check outs, On one occasion while using the self check out, I purchased beer and waited for the customer service person to key something in to show I was of age......(I think I got the same clerk) she rushes over to me and asked me what the problem was, I said, "just waiting for you to make sure i'm 21. She replied " Really? I took care of that, it's easy to see you are WAY over 21" Huh?
Angela July 01, 2012 at 12:56 AM
My husband and I will not use the self check out - I dont want anyone to loose their job and I prefer the interaction with the check out people. Save a job and use the regular lines.
GG July 11, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Have you ever considered that the self checkout industry employs thousands of programmers, engineers, managers, assemblers, testers, shippers, forecasters, support staff? As a bonus, Fujitsu's U-Scans are built in NY state; the head office is in California - there are jobs.
Troy July 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I'm not an expert but wouldn't programmers, engineers, managers, assemblers, testers, shippers, forecasters and support staff be involved in producing a regular check stand that would keep a clerk employed? I'm pretty sure they don't build themselves.
Ben Toy July 18, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I don't view most things in absolute terms...if one is good...they are all good...if one is bad...they are all bad... It depends on lots of things and I use both self check out and checkouts maned by a human being, though some times the machine has better manners Self check can have longer lines. Especially when there are folks who are clueless on HOW2 use them or have to ask too many questions of the single person taking care of them Or the checkout person has horrible manners, or trying to make some points with a pretty gal/guy, or having a conversation with another worker totally ignoring what they are paid to do, or to have them toss something fragile around, or someone in front of me in line making a fuss over something, etc, etc Then understand that all things are designed for the "idiot and gorilla" to the thieves trying to steal stuff. Why the self checkout has to weigh the thing just scanned to make sure the SKU matches the weight of that thing preloaded into it's data base. Like folks will take a SKU from an el cheapie something to scan it and really have something else that is worth way more. It depends...


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