Grocery store self-checkout: Love it or hate it?

By Nicole Sarrubbo on March 18, 2010 12:01:00 am

It seems like one of those issues, similar to the great over-under toilet paper debate, where people have strong opinions.

Anthony Giorgianni, one of our finance writers, wrote about it recently in his blog, “Supermarket self-checkout: No thanks, I already have a job”—I guess the headline lets you know where he stands on the issue!

As for me, I think the self-checkout lanes actually make the other lines move faster  at my local store. My main peeve with the self-checkouts (besides flagging someone down to get my canvas bag discount) is the long lines from shoppers who roll up with overflowing carts and proceed to slowly check out one item at a time, while I stand and wait with my loaf of bread.

I became so frustrated during ShopRite’s Can Can sale this winter that I sent an e-mail to the local store and asked that they consider turning the kiosks into express lanes—and sure enough, someone e-mailed me back and they made two of the four lanes into express “12 items or less,” complete with a little Road Runner character on the signs. Victory at the self-checkout lane!

Do you love the convenience of scanning and packing your own groceries? Or do you get frustrated with the technology and lines? Let us know!

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Nicole Sarrubbo

Nicole Sarrubbo

Posted at 12:01:00 AM in
Nicole Sarrubbo | Shopping

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Mary Beth Hunt

01:43:04 AM on Thu Mar 18 2010

I LOVE them. I am particular about how my stuff is packed. I can go the speed I want, nobody comments on my purchases, and it is packed like I want it. I don't really consider it "work" but just part of the shopping experience. I really enjoy grocery shopping and will spend a lot of time at the store. I HATE standing in a checkout line and will leave my cart IN the line to go knock on a manager's door to get more checkers. Not many grocery stores HAVE the kiosks, but it is growing.

John

09:35:52 AM on Thu Mar 18 2010

For me, it depends upon the type of system that the store has adopted. Most of the Safeway stores in my area do not have self-checkout, but the ones that do have an efficient system where the item is scanned and placed on a conveyor belt down to the bagging area.
This model is very similar to the lanes that have a checker present an seems to work quite well. King Soopers (Kroger) on the other hand has this completely messed-up system where one is required to follow verbal (mechanically generated) prompts about when to scan, and then place the item in the bag. If it doesn't perceive that the item has been placed in a bag, it throws a fit and won't proceed. I have tried this system several times and usually end up just leaving in frustration.

elisabeth

11:59:38 AM on Thu Mar 18 2010

Social interactions don't have to just take place on line! I think it is sad that people are abandoning personal interaction in so many venues (banking is another example).
I like talking to the checkers at our grocery stores—at the chain store they are often young people unfamiliar with some of the vegetables and fruits we buy and I like talking up healthier options.
At the local coop, the checker we look for is an older woman who is very nice and we have a real if limited acquaintance with her.
And, there are almost always some items that the checker has difficulty with, and I'd rather they have to deal with a mis-priced item or a price missing from the database instead of me.

John @ Wise Finish

11:16:37 PM on Thu Mar 18 2010

I really dislike the self-check lines when I have a full cart. It is difficult to deal with any problems that may arise while checking out my order (like missing barcodes, missing produce stickers, etc). Also, I have to check then run to bag my order, then go back and check some more. It is generally not a smooth process.

However if I have just a few items, the self checks are great because they are fast!

Rebecca M

11:55:16 AM on Fri Mar 19 2010

Depends on what I'm shopping for and how long the self-serve line is. If I have a couple of things and there are not too many people checking out I love them.
If I have a lot I tend not to use them for they usually are not set up for large amounts of stuff and the weighted platforms don't help. I find they are slower if the line is long because there is always at least one (if not more) person who has no idea how the thing works. Drives me crazy! It's a love-hate relationship. I like having the option. I fear the day I lose my choice.

Alex Cole

06:06:55 PM on Sun Mar 21 2010

In this economy where people NEED jobs I refuse to use these hateful "automated" systems. They are a joke. Do you pay LESS for scanning, looking up prices, finding the bored cashier to override something ? No. You pay the exact same amount as someone who goes through a cashier's line EXCEPT you get service, a person keeps a job & there's a whole lot less frustration.

The systems are poorly designed.
IF they allowed you to just unload the cart onto a conveyor belt (you know, like the ones you get with a real live cashier) & it truly was "automated" and scanned the items, I probably would use them occasionally.
But the fact is YOU unload the cart, YOU scan the items, YOU look up product codes & YOU bag it ... all for the exact same price I pay, except I only have to unload the cart.

Andrew

05:44:49 PM on Wed Mar 24 2010

First off, I have to make a disclaimer - I work for one of the companies that makes and services self checkout. (I fix them.)

A few points to refute from the blog post, and some general tips for when you use the self checkout:

1: The current forms of self checkout are designed around security. This comes in two forms: the weight of the item, and the cashier. There is no security without a cashier present, period. When RFID is present in everything, this may change, but for now, a cashier is always required to make sure people don't walk out the door without paying.

2: Let's be realistic. The grocery business has a razor-thin margin. Competition is fierce, which is what you want as a consumer because it keeps prices down. When managers need to cut back on something to make their budget, the first place they cut is labor. So, would you rather wait in line for one of two cashiers? (Some grocery stores are union, and part of that contract forbids management from working the register at all, or only one or two managers can do it during busy times.)
This was the frustration that caused the design of the self checkout in the first place (not as Anthony said in his blog post, a corporate executive's brainstorm).
Keep in mind, this device does bring jobs: mine. The self checkout has many moving parts, and they eventually fail. Someone has to fix them. The common argument is that they fire cashiers when they put this in. This is false. It does however add additional jobs in the form of people who fix them. It also adds more lanes for you to checkout without adding additional labor that raises prices on your groceries.

3: Even though no smart service business will stop you (the customer is always right, even when they are blatantly wrong) the self checkouts without the belt do not move quickly (due to the aforementioned security), so they should be express only. Coming to a 5, 3, 2, or single bagger with a cart full will only result in everyone having to wait, including you. You will move faster waiting in line for the cashier than you will checking yourself out, depending on the length of the line. If they do have the belted models, then use those for your large checkout order.

4: Pay attention to what the machine tells you, both in audio prompts and on the screen. 90% of "an attendant is required to assist you" prompts are either due to the customer not following the instructions or they have someone interfering with their order (their kids playing/touching the machine, someone at the next machine putting their basket on yours, you holding on to the bag after putting your item in it, etc.).
Also make sure when you do your produce that all of that particular produce item is on the scanner scale platter. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask.

5: If you have your own bags, set them on the bag scale before you even start your order (touching the touchscreen to start). Both the NCR and the Fujitsu/Optimal Robotics self checkouts will see the change in weight and ask you: "Are you using your own bags?" Answer yes! The cashier is also prompted, so they can give you bag credit if that store gives it.

6: If you have multiple light items, or multiple amounts of the same light items (kool-aid mix packets, greeting cards, really small items that weigh less than 0.02 pounds), ask the cashier to scan them for you. It will go much faster, as those items weigh so little that you may end up waiting for a while to scan each one.
Likewise if you have large heavy items, hit the Large Item button and have the attendant scan it for you. You may hurt yourself or damage the machine picking up a heavy item to scan it and put it on the bag scale. The machine can be fixed if it is broken, but you are a different story.

7: Don't hit the skip bagging button unless you fully intend to put the item back in your basket. Most customers see a button and hit it without even comprehending what it says, thinking it will make their checkout experience faster. Then they get "An attendant is required to assist you" and get mad. Also, due to security, if you hit it more than once, you will have to wait for an attendant to verify you have no more unscanned items in your basket before paying.

8: Don't feel you have to check out at the self checkout. If you don't want to, and they have no other lanes open, ask if a lane can be opened. Most of the time the cashier at the self checkout can open a lane if they are the only one up front; if not they can call someone to open it for you.

Lastly, remember that computers are not people. They cannot read your mind. They cannot read your intentions. They have to follow a step-by-step process. You have to adapt, as they cannot. If you do not want to adapt, don't use them. Remember that the business is there to serve you. They adapt to customer needs. That is why the self checkouts are in the store—they adapted to have one cashier serve many express orders at the same time, instead of you having to wait.

Lynne

01:27:55 AM on Sun Mar 28 2010

I'm indifferent. I really do not think it's faster if you have more than one or two items, are buying things that require ID, or if the machine acts up (which it tends to do) and the terminals aren't manned so you have to wait for someone to see the little blinking light on top - which can take up to 10 minutes.
I much prefer someone checking me out.

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05:03:45 AM on Mon Mar 29 2010

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cocoanti

11:10:56 PM on Tue Jul 20 2010

Likewise if you have large heavy items, hit the Large Item button and have the attendant scan it for you. You may hurt yourself or damage the machine picking up a heavy item to scan it and put it on the bag scale. The machine can be fixed if it is broken, but you are a different story.

louis

05:30:11 AM on Thu Aug 5 2010

This model is very similar to the lanes that have a checker present and seems to work quite well. King Soopers (Kroger), on the other hand, has this completely messed-up system where one is required to follow verbal (mechanically generated) prompts about when to scan, and then place the item in the bag. If it doesn't perceive that the item has been placed in a bag, it throws a fit and won't proceed. I have tried this system several times and usually end up just leaving in frustration.

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05:49:55 AM on Thu Sep 2 2010

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Buy Perfume Online

11:09:01 AM on Mon Dec 6 2010

I find they are slower if the line is long because there is always at least one (if not more) person who has no idea how the thing works.

New York bankruptcy  attorney

02:59:11 PM on Tue Dec 7 2010

This model is very similar to the lanes that have a checker present an seems to work quite well. King Soopers (Kroger) on the other hand has this completely messed-up system where one is required to follow verbal (mechanically generated) prompts about when to scan, and then place the item in the bag.

New York bankruptcy  attorney

03:02:51 PM on Tue Dec 7 2010

If I have a couple of things and there are not too many people checking out I love them.

phentermine

03:54:06 PM on Wed Dec 8 2010

Most of the Safeway stores in my area do not have self-checkout, but the ones that do have an efficient system where the item is scanned and placed on a conveyor belt down to the bagging area.

phentermine

03:55:25 PM on Wed Dec 8 2010

I like talking to the checkers at our grocery stores—at the chain store they are often young people unfamiliar with some of the vegetables and fruits we buy and I like talking up healthier options.

Criminal Lawyer NYC

12:16:16 PM on Wed Dec 22 2010

I find they are slower if the line is long because there is always at least one (if not more) person who has no idea how the thing works.
Criminal Lawyer NYC

Lora Brown

05:49:21 AM on Wed Jan 12 2011

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Regina Domeraski

08:35:20 AM on Fri Jul 26 2013

I use the Stop and Shop self-checkout and love it, especially because they have hand scanners that you can carry around the store. The main reason I like self-checkout and the hand scanners is that I can bag my own groceries, and if I use the hand scanner, I can do it as I walk around the store. The only time I used a cashier recently, I ended up with a spilled container of brownies that I had to discard (at a loss of over $5). I can also keep my tomatoes from getting cold or crushed. Whole Foods does not have self-checkout, but their cashiers are always very careful about how they bag and very courteous, much more than in any other store I go to. They are happy, like the baristas in Starbucks. At Whole Foods, I do not miss self-checkout, but I do everywhere else. The only problem with self-checkout are the occasional audits if you have a large order.

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