Selfish Shopping

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is on full display this week.  We’ve reached the critical timeframe – ten days out – where packages must be sent if they’re getting to destinations by Christmas.  We’re making lists, not just for Santa but also for last-minute purchases.  Now here’s the good news, weary shopper: no matter where you’re spending your holiday dollars, self-checkout is often an option.

If you’re like me, you beeline to self-checkout when you’re done shopping.  You still have “the control”, as people like to say (who also prefer to drive instead of fly).  With self-checkout you believe you can scan and bag faster than those who are paid to do so.  Maybe, but consider the decisions you have to make in the process::

  1. When do you choose self-checkout?  Most of the time, (especially if the checker-bagger lines are long) but what if you have a lot of items?  Self-checkout is awkward with a full shopping basket (ignore the stares).  One time my wife and I snagged side-by-side registers, put the cart between them, and scanned away.  Against the rules, you say?  What rules? 🙂
  2. Where do you stand in line?  This is touchy territory, shopper.  If you face the typical arrangement where one set of registers sits opposite the other, with enough open space in between, you can get separate lines for each set… which gets ugly when a person assumes he/she is entitled to the next available register on either side.  Prepare for battle.
  3. Which register do you choose?  Murphy’s Law of Self-Checkout: One of the registers doesn’t work.  You just assumed it was available because you couldn’t see the “out of order” screen until you were right in front of it.  Now you have to turn around and reclaim your place in line.  Again, ignore the stares.
  4. When do you alert the self-checkout human assistant (oxymoron?)  How many times have you gotten ahead of the system only to hear, “unexpected item in bagging area” or “please wait for assistance”?  Here’s a tip: don’t wait for assistance.  Most of the time the register is trying to catch up and just needs a little more time.  Congrats, you’re faster than a computer.

Hard to believe, but retail self-checkout just celebrated forty years.  We shoppers been doing what one writer describes as “quasi-paid unforced labor under surveillance” since the 1980s.  I remember how I wasn’t thrilled about the concept when it debuted.  Back then I thought, “Why do I have to do the checking out when someone else is paid to do it for me?”

I was even more annoyed when the airlines put up their “selfish” kiosks and dared travelers to check themselves in and print their own boarding passes.  How quickly we adapt.  Today I’ll choose self-checkout any time I’m given the option (even though surveys say 67% have a bad experience).  In fact, we’ve been conditioned to self-checking out ever since the debut of the bank ATM in the late 60s.  DIY checkout will only get more prevalent as companies reduce labor costs.  One of these days I can picture a self-checkout Starbucks, with a fully mechanical barista standing by to whip up your skinny latte.  Don’t bet against it.

Reasons we choose self-checkout (web.mit.edu)

Self-checkout is about to enter a new arena: clothing stores.  But what about those security devices attached to the sleeves or pant legs?  And how will they know if we slip an extra pair of shoes into the box? The bigger concern, however, may be image.  How will Saks or Bloomingdales look with a bank of self-checkout registers next to their fancy cosmetic counters?  Not the pretty picture of luxury shopping we’ve come to expect.

Image doesn’t matter to me so much, but my time does.  If self-checkout returns a few minutes to my day, I say sign me up.  But somewhere we’ve got to draw the line, people.  At the rate we’re going, human interaction will soon be the exception, not the rule.  It’s also not the direction a world in need of more face time should be heading.

With that, I put down the keyboard for the remainder of 2022.  Remember, the holidays are anything but “selfish”, and everything about face time.  Merry Christmas!

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Self-checkout annoys some customers…”

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

24 thoughts on “Selfish Shopping”

  1. I use self checkout a lot these days. I’ve found a number of stores have cut back on human checkers so sometimes it’s the fastest option. I will admit that years ago I was frustrated by slow human checkers who couldn’t seem to find the barcodes on things. Now we just skip that step and I become frustrated looking for barcodes. About the only time I don’t do self-checkout is at the grocery store when buy vegetables – the codes for those are hard to find at best and normally my weekly shopping order is large enough that a little help bagging up is apprecated.

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    1. The “search by picture” option drives me nuts with vegetables (and nuts, I suppose). Some are hidden pretty well in those menus. And Wal*Mart really needs to remodel its checkout area because I’ve rarely seen more than a handful of checkers operating in the couple of dozen stations. I always go for self-checkout at Wal*Mart.

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  2. “unexpected item in bagging area” or “please wait for assistance”? Ugh! Yes. I try to get a self-checkout near the human, because inevitably I get that notice, and it’s not just because I’m faster than the computer. Most recently, the tomatoes weren’t ringing up because we grabbed ones without stickers. Dang. Live and learn.

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    1. I hear you, Betsy. Sometimes produce has a sticker that looks like it scans but it doesn’t. Then you have to do the “search by picture” thing and I lose patience in a hurry. Don’t you want to yell at that scanner voice sometimes? Not that the voice behind my GPS listens to me either…

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  3. At Whole Foods even if we go to a register we still have to pack our own bags if we bring in reusable ones. They only bag if you use their bags, makes no sense. I like the self checkout, but I can’t imagine Saks/Berfdorf doing it. Part of the fun of shopping is having them beautifully wrap it I would think. I’ve never bought anything but it seems like they would make it pretty.

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    1. The “beautiful wrapping” thing is a great point, Lyssy. Makes you feel even better about your expensive purchase. Plus, you get to have a nice conversation at the counter while they wrap (which is a poignant scene in “Brooklyn” if you saw the movie). There’s something to be said for personal interaction. I hope Saks and the other high-end department stores find a way to avoid self-checkout forever.

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  4. Hi Dave,
    I normally don’t like self-checkout because I always end up having to stand there and wait for a person to come and clear some issue – it never fails. I do like Costco’s self-checkout. They always have the longest lines ever, so if I have only a couple of items, they make a huge difference.
    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about Costco, Ana – self-checkout makes a lot of sense at warehouse stores when you have just a few items to purchase. You avoid the whole, “Oh, you don’t have much, why don’t you go ahead of me…”, conversation in the regular lines, even though it’s a nice gesture when people make it.

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  5. I’m not a big fan of self-checkout, but it has escalated in my part of the world because the stores can’t find clerks to do that job. The upside to being more elderly is that the stand-by assistant frequently offers to help us – they seem to assume that people of our age won’t be able to figure out how to work the machines.

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    1. I will concede the self-checkout human assistant is typically helpful and friendly. I’m guessing they don’t have to deal with as much stress as their checker/bagger counterparts.

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  6. Now I am one that person who scans faster than the computer Dave. I got to know where the UPC codes were and could scan and finish my shopping very quickly and that was when Meijer (Midwest grocery stores, like a Walmart in size, maybe a tad smaller) had self-checkout for any size shopping. I liked that and always scanned my own items. They used regular checkout lanes, (formerly run by cashiers with a bagger). I would go shopping sometimes in the morning before work and I could separate my perishables and triple bag and had time to put everything perishable away and still be timely for work. But noooo – the store was remodeled last year and went to the self-checkout where everyone queues up … nowhere to put your bags and they sure never go back into the cart as easily as you had them before you removed the items and scanned them (so why is that?) Now I’m back to the cashier/bagger, where a perpetual argument will ensue when I ask for triple bags and I get eye rolls or “you mean for everything?” I was nasty once and asked if it came out of their pocket, but I’ve had bags slit and groceries spill out in the driveway, sidewalk leading to the door or on the steps. I should take recyclable bags, but do not. The reason they stopped the large checkout lines for self-scan … too much pilfering. Merry Christmas back at you!

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    1. I swear those plastic bags are getting even thinner, Linda. We used to be able to save them for other uses but they seem to break almost as soon as you get your groceries onto the counter at home. And yes, the issue of stealing is a real concern (as if it wasn’t already in the checker/bagger aisles). Merry Christmas to you and all of your furry/feathered friends!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I’ve had more than a few bags break in my day Dave. I re-use mine if possible too – it’s good to save the planet with the cloth reusable bags but they get dirty too fast and take a while to dry. It used to be just pilfering in the candy aisles at the checkout lane – it’s morphed into more these day. Thank you Dave!

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  7. I don’t like self check-out! As if shopping weren’t chore enough, self-check out has put the entire shopping burden on my shoulders. I would really like shopping to be “fun” again – with customer service and everything – but it will never happen. Enjoy your Christmas

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    1. If nothing else, self-checkout has me appreciating a good in-person customer service experience even more. Some people just have a knack for providing a satisfying transaction. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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  8. Sam’s Club has taken self checkout to the next level with a scan/checkout function on their app. I scan items as I put them in the cart and pay through the app when done. A code appears on my screen and the person at the door scans it and 3 items in the cart and I’m outta there. That is the one thing I prefer about Sam’s over Costco because I avoid lines at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t aware of this approach at Sam’s, J P, but I like it, especially as a labor-saving approach. I’m sure self-scan will be all the more common in the coming months and years. Will be interesting to see supermarkets make the inevitable transition.

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  9. I don’t like self check-out at the grocery store either, because we eat a lot of produce. Customer service no longer seems to be part of corporations’ considerations. It’s all about the bottom line. More money in their pockets. Our son and family stopped shopping at corporate grocery stores (except Whole Foods) and have opted for an old-fashioned model: a market with different, independently-owned shops/stores. They can get just about everything they need there. The shop-owners get to know their customers and their preferences, making for a true shopping experience! I’m about ready to try it.

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    1. I like your thinking, Nancy. The human interaction aspect of shopping needs to remain, just the way we value the service we receive in a restaurant. For the sake of our stay-at-home tendencies lately, these little moments of face-to-face are more valuable than they appear to be.

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