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7 Reasons I Won’t Be Using The Self-Checkout Machines At My Local Supermarket

Posted on June 6, 2011 in Posts | 3 comments

I’m not totally against self-checkout machines or progress, but the ones at my local supermarket have turned shopping into a living hell*.  Here’s why I won’t be using them.

1.  They’re Confusing.  Now I’m not a man easily confused by technology.  I can put together websites that almost work and look good; I can write HTML and CSS code and I can do things to the inside of PCs too.  And given that the self-checkout systems are supposed to be a user-friendly interface that are accessible to people with little tech-savvy or confidence, you might expect that I’d be able to use them easily.  But they’re bewildering.  Not in and of themselves, but because they are located in a packed group of self-checkouts in a very small space going through different stages of the transaction but bellowing instructions at their customer in the same identical voice.  “Please scan your first item”.  Wait, what!  I’m on my third.  “Please replace the item in the bagging area”.  What!  I haven’t removed the item from the bagging area.  “Please wait for assistance.” Assistance?  To scan a jar of cloves? How daft do I look? Having a row of three machines with only one voice is idiotic.  It’s like having a third member of Jedward.

2.  Buying Alcohol Becomes Difficult.  Occasionally** I like to buy some beer or wine.  This is not a straightforward purchase at the self-checkout because a light suddenly flashes above your machine (sadly no klaxon) and a member of staff has to come over to approve your purchase.  I have no problem with that whatsoever (except that I haven’t been asked for ID for about two years now); I hold a personal licence to sell alcohol myself.  I have a problem with the amount of time it wastes when I’m shopping in a small store.  Both mine, and that of the person who has to verify that I’m over eighteen.  Because at my local shop…

3.  When You Need Assistance Everything Comes To A Halt.  In my local supermarket, no matter how busy it gets, the staff working at the manned tills are the ones that have to come over to verify age, remove security tags or deal with the halfwit that’s wondering where the barcode is on a lime, at the self-checkout.  They have to abandon their tills – once they’ve finished dealing with their current customer – leaving you waiting for them to do that, and while they’re dealing with you, there’s a queue of people waiting for the staff member to come back to deal with them.  This annoys everyone.  This means that far from being an efficient system that eases the burden on the staff, they end up spending much of their time travelling between the checkout and the self-checkout and when they are dealing with customers, those customers are ill-tempered.  Essentially their working lives are spent rushing around placating a mob.  They aren’t even equipped with truncheons or tall hats.

4.  The Machine Tells You Off If You Move Anything.  This is annoying at any self-checkout but, when added to the other frustrations in a small store it becomes infuriating.  The bagging area is tiny and the chances are that you’re probably buying more than one thing.  But if – during your game of bagging area jenga – you move anything in the bagging area, the checkout (or possibly the one next to it, who knows?) bellows at you to replace it.  I don’t go to a supermarket to play a game in which I am forced to balance an assortment of dissonantly shaped objects on a small space while being bellowed at by a robot.  If I wanted to play that game, I’d go to a Japanese television studio.

5.  The Machine Is Patronising.  Once all the “fun” is over and you’ve paid for everything you were able to balance successfully in the bagging area and you’ve received your receipt (and twelve others), you start taking your items.  And, at some point while you’re doing that, the machine will bellow “please take your items” at you.  But you don’t need to be asked to do this because firstly, you’re already doing it and secondly – unless you’ve been kidnapped by a band of Gododdin tribesman and held prisoner for the past 1500 years or so  – you’ll be aware of how the concept of a shopping transaction works and you’ll already know that once you’ve paid for your items you should take them with you.  And that’s probably when you’ll snap.

6.  Other Shoppers Will Look At You Strangely When You Argue With It. “I know!  I bloody know!  Of course I’m going to take my sodding items you authoritarian automaton!  That’s what I came here for!   I didn’t come here to give you money and then just leave my goods, that would be cretinous!  I wholly understand that if I leave this lime here with you then when I get home there will be no lime in my gin and tonic.  I get that!  I want the lime!”  It’s much like the modern tradition of arguing with the sat-nav in the car, except that in the car there isn’t a line of slack-jawed people backing away from you and shielding their children from Disproportionately-Angry-Man.  Or if there is, you’re a bus driver.

7.  Human interaction.  I just like people.  I want to deal with a person:  Not an exhausted, defensive person whose shift has been spent in the service of an infernal machine and in placating the bewildered, the angry and the truculent but a person that is relaxed and at ease in their environs and with their customers.  But I can’t because of the machines.  I miss the happy people that the self-checkout machines have turned into the dejected and the unsmiling.  After all, if I wanted to be scowled at and resented I could just stay at home.


*Okay, an unpleasant experience.

**On almost every occasion.


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  1. What bugs me about them is when they grind to a halt and start saying “Unexpected item in bagging area” over and over again.

    You’re a supermarket. What the heck could I be putting into the bagging area that you were not expecting? A full sized Porsche? A used umbilical cord? Delia freaking Smith?

    There should be NOTHING that I can put into the bagging area of any consequence that the machine isn’t expecting. I can accept it locking up when I accidentally scan the wrong loyalty card (and in fact I’m very grateful that it doesn’t scream INTRUDER ALERT at that faux pas) but not delaying me because it is no good at it’s job. If I want that I’ll go to a manned till.

  2. There is one time that they do work perfectly: When no one is behind you. But, on cue, if you excuse the pun, as soon as someone comes to wait to their checking out, the machine starts to have problems. It’s almost as if there is an artificial intelligence there to detect another customer, or the only scanner it has that does work is the one that detects the other customers.

    One attraction of using them is that you can bag your own items. It’s better than letting one of those snotty-nosed kids collecting for the local scout troop do it. Yes, there they are collecting for a deprived group of scouts whose least well off child’s father only owns one Porsche. With all their abilities to tie special knots and put up tents, they lack the basic skill of how to pack a bag of shopping. So as sure as eggs are eggs, your eggs will be crushed by one of these kids dropping the heaviest item they can right on top of them… and then want to be paid for it.

  3. they are so annoying, especially when they sya ‘unexpected item in bagging area.”

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