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The Secret of Self-Checkout

Beware of Bossy Machines and Shrewd Cashiers

Shopping at Safeway during rush hour can be as stressful as trying to program a DVR player.  After selecting my grocery items, I stand in a lane, five customers deep, filled with overloaded carts moving at a pace slower than a chess game.  I notice a few brave souls with small orders using self-checkout.

For those whose haven’t been paying attention, the self-checkout is an automated register located near aisle one.  The customer scans, bags and pays for the purchases without the help of a cashier.  Sounds easy enough but don’t let that fool you.  Self-checkout machines can be bossy.

I eye the machine with the trepidation of a kid receiving a flu vaccine. “Don’t do it.  Remember the last time,” says that little voice inside my head.  I had selected Spanish instead of English and ended up in a system loop, “Llame al attendant.”  I abandoned the items on the scanner and left the store.     

But today I have lots of motivation, faster and shorter lines.  I refuse to be intimidated again.

I weave through other shoppers to reach self-checkout.  One cashier provides assistance for six machines.  With shrewd, beady eyes and painted on pants, she acts like a periscope on a submarine, constantly scanning and waiting for the slightest customer infraction. 

            I step up to the self-checkout machine.  A computer-animated voice demands me to follow the directions on the screen.  First, I select English not Spanish.  Next, the annoying voice says, “Scan your item.  Place in shopping bag.”  This goes smoothly until I try to scan a bag of carrots, no bar code.

            Oh God, now what? 

The attendant senses my confusion and saunters over.  “Have a problem?” she asks.

“Yeah, how do I scan vegetables?”

Mocking me with its simplicity, she places the carrots on the scale, enters her secret pin number, pushes four buttons, smirks and walks away. 

It is more difficult to repeat the process without her by my side.  Placing apples on the scale, I push the “No Barcode” icon and then “A” on the display screen for apples.  Forty separate icons appear.  Mackintosh, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Red Delicious, the list drones on.  Since the tiny label fell off the apple, I panic and push any button.  My face turns beet red and lips quiver.

Okay, just relax. 

            My items overflow the bagging area and I sling them into the cart.  The register shuts down with an error message, “See attendant.” 

The computer system alerts the cashier, she marches over, fixes the machine and reminds me, “You must leave the bags in the bagging area until you are finished or the machine thinks you are stealing.”

If I knew so much, I’d be working here!

By this point, crowds pile up behind me as angry as the fans at an Oakland Raiders game.  Hyperventilating, I try my last item, a birthday card.  I run it over the scanner and slide it into the bagging area. 

The creepy computer voice reminds me, “Place item in bagging area.”

What the hell?

I catch the attention of the attendant for the final time.  She drags herself over, letting me know with the shake of her head that I am beyond help.

“The card is too light-weight.  The machine doesn’t know if you put it in the bagging area.”

She enters her secret pin number, pushes a button and walks away.

Finalizing my purchases, I scan my club card, enter the Visa, take the receipt, grab the last bag and leave the store in humiliation.  Didn’t even attempt to use a coupon. 

You’ve been warned.

jake3_14 July 04, 2012 at 12:16 AM
That wasn't due to customer complaints or lack of use. The machinery kept breaking down, slowing the checkout speed. Costco's committed to good customer service, so out the self-checkout lines went.
jake3_14 July 04, 2012 at 12:20 AM
You also have to be canny if you bring your own grocery bags. You can't set them down before scanning items, because the giant scale gives an error. You can't set them down during scanning, because their added weight makes the machine give an error. No, you have to hold the bag in your hands and transfer groceries directly to the bag. So much for saving the environment!
Troy Philis July 07, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The rude Safeway checker didn't ring true to me. I think leaving out the business name would have made it more a humorous slice of life and less a criticiscm of a specific business and its employees. I shop at Safeway and have talked to the checkers about self-checkout, and they don't like it either.
Chao Yi May 28, 2014 at 02:16 PM
I had just such an experience this morning except the 2 chatty girls at the self-checkout location did not offer to come help. My son accidentally touched the scale and the machine thought I was trying to steal an "invalid item" and now my bags needed to be "verified". After a few iterations of that nonsense I left all my crap at the self-checkout and walked out the door. I won't return.
Stacey Gustafson May 28, 2014 at 02:28 PM
Glad you got a laugh. Check out my new stuff on my blog, http://staceygustafson.com/

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