Self-checkout for dummies

Oh, the self-checkout. That glorious innovation of the retail world. The unbridled freedom it brings to the quick-trip shopper. The confidence it inspires in its self-empowered users.

The Lord of the Flies is what it really is. There's a long line and no authority and suddenly, everybody wants to kill someone. I'd love to jump up and take control: You - over there! What's your problem? Get your debit card facing the right way! Load your groceries! There's an unexpected item in the bagging area! Get to it, man!

In reality, though, we all just kinda stand there, annoyed. The rules aren't posted, aren't enforced, and aren't even clear in the first place.

A few weeks ago, on the third of July, my local Jewel was hopping with youngsters buying beer and snacks for the holiday. Each person had been planning to run in, buy four things, and run out. But the line for the self-checkout was at least twelve people long.

Fortunately, the store's not stupid. They anticipated the rush. What did they do?

They brought in This Guy.

This guy might be the store owner, or some unfortunate soul from corporate. But thank god for him, because he enforced the rules. Rules that I forgot existed! I delighted in watching him stop people who were trying to cut the line, and helping shoppers who couldn't figure out why the machine was so mad at them.

It got me thinking. This guy is fabulous. He's making order from chaos. But he's not going to be here tomorrow. And the problems still are. The self-checkout may be helping the store process customers and save money, but it's got plenty of issues. And I believe these issues stem from a lack of clarity on the rules.

So in an effort to help you, me and everyone we know, here are my 5 rules of the self-checkout.

1. There Is A Line. How many times are you waiting in line, and some guy walks right up to a machine? Just cuts in front of all the patient folks? Buddy, there are no frontsies, no backsies, no cuts. There is a line, and it's your duty to find it. Oh, and there isn't a different line for each machine, either - there is one line for all of them. So wait your turn.

2. Pay Attention. How many times does some woman get to the front, receive a cellphone call, and totally tune out? When you are in line, and especially when you're first, you need to be scanning like a hawk. I want to see eagle eyes. When twelve angry shoppers are behind you, do not take your eye off the ball. For god's sake, do not answer your cellphone. Give the process some respect.

3. That Machine's Not Broken. This is classic crowd behavior. Nobody's using that machine, so it must be broken. Nobody continues to use that machine. It's like in the bathroom stalls, when nobody checks for feet - they just assume that one is unavailable because the door is closed. Why don't you try the machine, then tell us if it's broken? Don't worry, we won't let you lose your place in line.

4. Ten Items Or Less. Seriously. Don't bring your cart with a hundred dollars worth of kitty litter and tuna fish and expect to do the whole thing yourself. This line may move faster because there are 8 kiosks, but you are six hundred times slower than the lady at the register. If you need all that stuff, let the cashier do it. She is faster because unlike you, she is being paid for this.

5. The Bar Code Is Somewhere Else. Some people just cannot get a grip on the mechanism of the self-checkout. They're scanning and scanning, trying to get it to pick up their pineapple. Okay. Your pineapple has one sticker on its entire body. It's on the top. Stop scanning the bottom! Turn it! Flip it! Try something new! And people, you know who you are.

Now, I am making these rules up based simply on my own experiences. These rules were never shared, with me or anyone else. There was no training. No pamphlet. No Self-Checkout For Dummies. I mean, cashiers know what they're supposed to do. If their register freezes, they don't just stand there gazing into space. They get on the horn and fix it.

But shoppers are not cashiers. And as much as the store would love us to behave like free labor, we aren't going to do that because we don't know how. So stores, if you want your shoppers to behave like employees, then train us like employees, and post the rules. Your rules. Just tell us what you want us to do. We could use a little direction.


Monkey and banana said...

Very good point, there are no rules of the game. I was so disappointed in these, I will normally go to a regular checkout. Though these days in most stores I will often see one person supervising say a set of four checkout lanes.

Can't help but wonder if you are really going around the stalls checking for legs.

sara said...

It's true, there is usually a supervisor, but they aren't proactive. They don't offer to help until you wave your arms frantically. Then they log in with their magic keycard, hit some buttons, and everything works again.

Why don't they tell us what went wrong in the first place, so that this doesn't happen again?

Oh, and I totally check the stalls. If you were female you would understand. Don't worry, all you see is feet and ankles. But nothing drives me crazier than a giant line of antsy women, three stalls being used, and four are available.

Jessica said...

i TOTALLY check the stalls. i do it all the time. because i swear...9 times out of 10 there IS an open bathroom, and the woman at the front of the line goes "up! silly me, shoulda checked."

hilarious post. i have so many issues with those machines too. there is almost always an error and finding the guy to fix it is THE biggest pain. Like monkey & banana, I think I would rather go to a person as well.

Madison said...

This is exactly why I prefer to shop online! I don't want to follow rules.. I just want to shop!

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Hillary said...

a) not talking about the guy you mentioned, but the guy monkey and banana mentioned: that dude is USELESS. he's never paying attention and, you're right, totally not proactive. like all i'm buying is beer and i'm all "hey buddy, can you get your ass over here and check my id? i got places to be, hombre!"

b) people who self-check-out their whole week's groceries should be shot. end of story.

c) people also just need to pay attention and read the freaking screen. "it wants you to click Check out & Pay, lady!" and like, "what part about inserting your credit card do you NOT understand?!"

d) of course, this blog ignores the fact that these things aren't very well designed. at all.

e) man, i hate those things. last time i was at jewel, the coffee i was buying wasn't even programmed in. the helper dude (letter a, but i actually found him funny and helpful) just took my word for how much i said it cost.

sara said...

Oh my god. I could write a whole post on the poor design of the self-checkout machines. I actually studied them for a Cognitive Human Factors homework assignment.

My favorite part is how when you're doing something right, the machine uses a female voice: "Please scan your first item." "Thanks for shopping Jewel-Osco." But when you're doing something wrong, the voice turns male: "Unexpected item in the bagging area. Remove this item before continuing."

It's like Mom and Dad, good cop and bad cop, all coming out of the same speaker.

Amanda said...

Ah, this post was fun to read. I love the way you write! Keep it up! :D

sara said...

Thanks Amanda!

Lisa said...

Where I work with self check outs there is always someone to help customers. The machines are never left alone there is always an attendent. Someone to help answer questions and keep order. So I am surprised that no one was there watching.

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