Home > Humor, Random/Rants > Quicker, Faster…Better?: The Self-Serve Checkout Catastrophe.

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

September 30, 2009 Leave a comment Go to 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.


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.

  1. Stacy
    September 30, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Agreed – I am also frustrated when the item scans but weighs very little (I’m thinking the little boxes with drink powder in them) and the machine keeps telling me to “Place item in the bag”. IT’S IN THERE!!! To not bag it (read: put it in the bag but the scale not read it) some supervisor has to come over and look at it. I’ve picked them up and thrown them in hard, then it weighed too much. Some supervisor had to come and check that out too.
    The last thing I have time to add is that EVERY item has to be scanned. I like to buy some things in bulk – lets say individual serving size yogurts. I buy at least 12 at a time and I have to scan each one of them…but a cashier can type in any number, scan one and they are all done. That’s faster and more economical AND better for the environment – not 12 of the same item listed on my receipt.
    Thank you for letting me rant.

    • davecunning
      October 1, 2009 at 2:11 am

      It always makes me feel less crazy when other people have the same experiences that I write about, and seem to get equally worked up about them.

      Your rants are always welcome here, Stacy!

  2. Braden
    October 1, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I seem to luck out with these machines. They scan fine, I think I fgured out you don’t have to bag every thing and just scan the next item (in some stores) the only problem I seem to have is the machine not reading my debit card. After figuring out just slide it through as fast as you can is the trick.
    I was recently in a Walmart somewhere where they had 6 express lanes but a carral of sorts to get everyone through the till quicker. A speaker would say “Next customer to till 3 Please” or what ever till was next avail. This works far better than the self serve especially when people take their complete shopping cart heaping full through the “self serve express lanes” I’d definately be in favour of this instead of the self serve.
    This brings up another point though Dave in how we’ve become more impatient and need things done this instant. We speed through towns and hate when a light takes too long to change green. We have 24hr stores open to serve us better. Why can’t we all just have a little more patience and relax.

    • davecunning
      October 1, 2009 at 10:36 pm

      I agree with your assessment of our increasingly hurried lifestyles. I think that was at least part of the point I was trying to get across–that as we try to facilitate such elevated speed and convenience, our ideas to do so sometimes end up taking longer than the “slow” way.

      Wal-Mart debit machines are notorious for card swipe errors. Everyone’s got a trick to try and beat the machine; swipe fast, swipe slow, plastic bag over the card (effective), rubbing the card stripe on your shoe (seen it work)… somehow my card still stumps Wal-Mart. Maybe instead of self-serve checkouts, they should just invest in updated debit machines???

      I also prefer the express lane with the loudspeaker voice telling you where to go. I’m also a little embarassed that I have so much to say on the topic of Wal-Mart.

  3. ryley
    October 2, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    I agree that our society is indeed one that wants and needs everything now,now,now. However I don’t agree with the statement that we just need to all ‘relax’ because truly the frustrating thing isn’t that we have to wait. Its that the false advertisment of this machine made us believe that we weren’t going to have to wait. Its the lie not the process that tends to be the most frustrating thing.

  4. ryley
    October 2, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    While I agree we live in a society that wants everything now,now and now. I don’t agree the statement that we just need to ‘relax’. The honest truth is were not upset that the process takes longer were upset because of the false advertisement made by the machine that we wouldn’t have to. Its the lie not the process that is truly frustrating

    *sorry if this double posts

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