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Quicker, Faster…Better?: The Self-Serve Checkout Catastrophe.

September 30, 2009 6 comments

One of the latest waves of convenience in the retail world is self-serve checkout.

Conceptually, these are the exact same counters that cashiers operate, only without the cashier (job creation at its

quickly and conveniently making your checkout experience longer and more frustrating.

quickly and conveniently making your checkout experience longer and more frustrating.

 finest).

The customer then scans, swipes, and bags his or her own way right out of the store, supposedly quicker than if a trained professional with a foreknowledge of the system and codes would be able to. For every child who fantasized about becoming a cashier, but just didn’t have the resume to crack the Wal-Mart starting line-up, your dreams are finally within your grasp.

Now, as great of a time and cost saving idea this appears to be, my experiences have generally been a combination of items not scanning, items scanning but not recognizing the item code, having to find a clerk, clerk calling for a price check, getting the clerk to punch in the code, card errors, and generally having to call staff over to help, while pretty much taking more time than it would to grin and bear the lineup for a cashier.

I swear to you, that this is how my last interaction went at a self-serve, while my friend Jeff bought ONE (1) pack of batteries, with a manager supervising/hovering (wouldn’t this job be better served by taking a few steps to the right, and just manning the machine?) the over the operation:

     Me: “ So is this self-serve thing really faster than going through the normal check-out procedure (pointing to 2 or 3 customer-less tills)?”

     Manager: “Oh yes, definitely.” 

Jeff attempts to scan his item multiple times, and places it on the weigh scale used to identify the item by…err… weight, I guess.

     Jeff: “Umm…why isn’t it scanning?”

     Manager:Hold on, let me try.”  No success.  “Ok, I’m going to have to do this one manually.” Type type type. “Ok, swipe your card.”

Jeff swipes. Card error. He swipes again, another error. A third error occurs and we have to start again. Jeff rescans the item. The machine chooses to believe he wants about 5 of the same item. Void the transaction. Start again. Item on the scale. Code re-typed. Item self bagged, and then transaction finally complete after solving another card issue, all in the time that saw a handful of other customers make their merry way through the other counters, issue free.

As we walked out the doors, the smirk on my face while I made eye contact with the manger and the other staff who had spectated the debacle was all the words I needed to express my thoughts on this latest technology of speed and convenience.

I understand that people want things faster and quicker in our pace quickening culture. I include myself in this category. But this is one situation that:

                    A) Does not perform its task of speeding up the purchase process.

                    B) Takes away a job from a person when unemployment is on the rise.

Granted, a cashier position is not the most glorious and sought after position, and I understand that businesses need to cut a few corners to survive sometimes. However, this is one situation where it’s still worth signing that extra pay cheque for someone to do the job efficiently so customers don’t go home and write blogs telling people about the stupid system their store has.

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