Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Love/Hate Relationship with Self-Checkout

I was at the store tonight doing my grocery shopping for the week and the time came for me to check out. I have had a complicated relationship with self-checkout since I first had the opportunity to use it. I can't remember when it became available, but I have always been conflicted about how useful it actually is. Tonight was no different as I experienced both the joy and the pain that I have come to expect every Sunday evening.

What I love about the self check-out is the feeling of progress and automation that I get from not having to interact with the human checker. However, I quickly learned that a human checker is still very much involved in the inevitably flawed system. This leads me to the other side of the relationship: those things that I hate.

After decades of watching cashiers rapidly scan and bag my groceries, I felt that I had seen enough to be able to emulate their efficiency. However, the self-checkout system is equipped with some sort of scanning governor allowing only one item to be scanned and bagged before the next item can come anywhere near the UPC laser grid. So I developed a slightly slower rhythm. No big deal, if only that rhythm wasn't constantly being interrupted by the patronizing pre-recorded voice telling me to "please place the item in the bag." It seems that the pack of gum that I bought is too light to register on the bag scales telling the machine that I am not trying to pull a fast one on it and steal something. I mean why would I scan it if I wanted to steal it anyway? Of course convincing the computer is impossible leaving only the option of going to the Mission Control station on an island in the middle of all the self-checkouts and hope that the lone human checker can get your issue resolved before someone has trouble getting their bananas weighed and priced.

This of course leads me to my biggest pet peeve of the entire process: checking out produce. This should not be a difficult process since most have a sticker with a four-digit code that can be manually entered while the fruit sits on the combination scanner and scale. But it never goes smoothly for me. I place my bananas on the scale, enter 4011 on the keypad and than am asked to "Please Wait." What am I waiting for? If this computer can't figure out how to multiply two numbers and tell me what my bananas cost, how can I trust it to correctly tally my grocery bill? So then it's back to the Mission Control where they treat me like I'm so stupid I might forget to breathe at any minute.

Don't get me wrong, I really do love the concept of self-checkout and rarely ever wait in line for a human checker, but there are some serious bugs that need to be worked out of the system. The biggest is the human/machine interface. Currently, it assumes you've never seen someone scan UPC codes before and you might just forget your own name if you didn't carry around ID. Must we all suffer so that the lowest common denominator can use this thing? I'm pretty sure those people are still the ones using human checkers anyway. And when the inevitable problem arises, Mission Control is too busy with other problems to get to yours right away. And if it really does only require one person at Mission Control to run these lanes, why aren't they all open all the time? It's like when you go to Wal-mart and try to figure out which four lanes out of the fifty possible are actually open for check out.

All in all, I can't really tell if this is saving any time for me or creating more aggravation. But it is putting some of the control into my hands which is always appreciated. So I will continue to struggle with the self-checkout every week and hope that the next generation of systems will solve these problems without introducing too many new ones!


katielady said...

I used to LOVE the self-check out! Gives me a sense of power that I can do better than those other guys. But, then again, they are being paid to do it, so it's almost like I'm doing their job for them.

So the catch 22 is that I go to the self-check line because I believe I can do it faster than those lazy checkers/baggers. But that only perpetuates their laziness and gives them more reason to sit around and not do any actual work. And they're still getting paid. Hmmm....

Timmie Smith said...

I've almost given up on self-checkout completely. I'll only use them if I have about 5 items, I have no produce, and there is no one waiting in line for the stations. Otherwise I'll let the checker and bagger do the work. I learned long ago that they are a lot more efficient at the process and have a much better layout of the workstation (how am I really supposed to turn the lazy susan of bags once I've got a brisket on it?).

Bubba's Sis said...

I, too, LOVE the self-checkout! I even go thru when I have more than the 15-item limit, because in my mind I am SO much quicker than everyone else and can get it done so fast no one will even notice how many items I have. I can justify this because I worked many teenage/young adult years as a grocery checker, thankyouverymuch. Psychologically I think it is a power/control thing (Me? A control freak? No way!). I usually have pretty good luck with them and rarely have to get Mission Control involved, but it does happen. For me, if I only have a few (OK, less than 20) items and I'm in a hurry, it's the way to go!

Bubba's Mom said...

As a Southern lady who doesn't pump her own gas, it would never occur to me to check out my own groceries. I mean, really - what's next???

Anonymous said...

"I mean, really - what's next?"

Indeed. The next thing you know, someone will suggest masturbation?

RealLifeChick said...

Dear "Bubba's Mom"
Welcome to 2008! Women not only pump thier own gas and check out thier own groceries, they also play sports, and ::gasp:: some of them date other women!
Seriously, get out of your bubble (read: southern, republican, big haired lifestyle) and live in the real world.