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.