Nobody likes a hater. That is true. But I confess, I’m a red-hot, fumble-fingered hater when it comes to self-checkout machines. I say, “Down with the machines and hear, hear for the cashiers and baggers of the world!”
Yes, I hate self-checkout at the supermarket. I hate it at the drugstore. Hate it at Home Depot. I truly hate it everywhere.
I cringe at the words:
“Please place item in the bagging area.”
“Unexpected item in the bagging area.”
And I curse and stomp at the words:
“Please wait for assistance.”
I figure if I spend my hard-earned cash at a store, management can hire enough employees to adequately staff checkout lines.
“Stores,” I say, “Spare me — and like-minded Luddites (meaning almost everybody) — the angst, anguish, and embarrassment of placing items on a scanner, only to set off blaring alarm bells and a red cop-car-like light display worthy of catching hardened criminals attempting a break-in at Fort Knox.”
Down with Self-Checkout
For Heaven’s sake, it’s 2022! We’ve walked on the moon. We have driverless cars (sort of). Don’t we deserve a reliable self-checkout station? Come up, Capitalism. What’s the deal? Why can’t you create machines that can consistently read and then, allow bagging without a hitch or a glitch?
And obviously, I’m not alone in this self-checkout hatred.
Otherwise, why are the cashier-operated lines at the supermarket, Target, Home Depot, and drugstore so long? It’s because so many of us prefer the comfort and safety of dealing with a human being when checking out!
I’m Not Inept! Honestly!
In my defense, I am not a techno-dud in most ways of modern life. I operate lots of apps on my iPhone. I navigate around town with the assurance of a 5-Star Uber driver thanks to my GPS, and I generally deal with the various techno-hiccups of my computer with the finesse of an Apple Store “Genius.”
Plop me in front of a self-checkout machine and I’m a befuddled, orthopedic sandal-wearing, bifocaled, middle-aged muddler!
My can of garbanzo beans is rejected in the bagging area. My cilantro code doesn’t exist in the scanning system. And the “wait for assistance” takes an eternity. I should have just stood on line behind three people and waited for a kindly, but harried cashier to help me.
Corporate Savings? Yes, But …
Obviously, self-checkout was designed to lower labor costs by reducing the number of cashiers. Yet, financially, the devices have not proved to be a 100% corporate saving home run.
As we consumers know, we humans aren’t 100% tech-savvy. We need supervision entering produce codes and apparently, in the bagging area as well! The machines themselves freeze up and have glitches. So, staffing is still needed.
And there’s massive customer theft. One study which audited 1 million self-checkout transactions over the course of a year, totaling $21 million in sales, determined that almost $850,000 worth of merchandise went out the door without being scanned.
Customers sneak items into their bags without scanning them — although how they do it beats me, since half the time even when I do scan items, the blasted machine screams out that “Unexpected item placed in bag” screed.
Some thieves peel off labels of cheaper items and place them on top of higher-priced items. On produce, they enter codes for lower-cost varieties.
Adding to retailers’ costs are inept shoppers (are you looking at me, retailers?) who inadvertently enter incorrect price codes to the detriment of the store.
Yet, despite the problems from the corporate side and whether we Luddites like it or not, self-checkout is here to stay.
In 2020, 29% of transactions at food retailers were processed through self-checkout, up from 23% the year prior, according to the latest data from the food industry association FMI.
The Rise of the Machines
Self-checkout machines were introduced in 1986, about the same time banks introduced ATMs. It took me forever to adjust to ATMs, but I finally did. I thought customers would never trust machines to handle their money. What did I know? Yet, today even I rarely step inside a bank, preferring the speed and convenience of the money machine.
Fill ‘Er Up!
Of course, back in the day, I resisted pumping my own gas. In high school and for years thereafter, I went to the same Shell gas station (on Maryland Parkway across from the Boulevard Mall, for my Las Vegas readers). I had great early morning conversations with the gas attendant, always confident my Oldsmobile was in the best of hands. I hated when I moved to another city. Only then, did I start pumping my own gas. It wasn’t laziness. It was about community, safety, and yes, resistance to change.
But as for these supermarket self-checkout monster machines? They are decidedly not super. Even buying a candy bar is a nightmare. I’m convinced the machines are out to get me! Check out this video. It’s hilarious and it’s exactly how I feel each time I try using the infernal contraption.
Yet, who knows?
If I could learn to use an ATM and pump my own gas, maybe one day I will weigh and scan a rutabaga. Of course, first, I’d have to know what a rutabaga is!
Until then, I’ll see you waiting on line at the market or Target or anywhere where friendly cashiers can be found.