The self-checkout register

not the panacea

Self-checkoutThe expanding universe of the self-checkout register shows up more in my Facebook feed than almost any topic. In general, these are not complimentary observations.

Some people complain about the basic philosophical position that machines are replacing humans. Far more, though, are frustrated by the difficulty of the transactions.

Specifically: they don’t work, fail to accept the coupons or register the incorrect prices. I wonder how often the frustration leads to items being unscanned and stolen. Or for abandoned transactions if the lines get too long.

Last month, when I was at my local Price Chopper grocery store, about a half dozen people were in line to go to the four self-checkout registers. Meanwhile, no one was in line behind the customer nearest human-staffed register. Of course, I went there and was done faster than the folks in line.


Around the same time, I stopped at CVS to get a small bag of chips and a ginger ale. The store had two self-checkout machines, but the only employee in sight was helping a customer in a wheelchair. Machine #1 had an abandoned transaction, so I went to the other one, which got stuck in a loop. Three frustrated patrons stood behind me.

Know that I had 15 minutes to catch a nearby bus when I walked in, but now it’s been ten minutes, and I was ready to throw up my hands and walk out sans the items.

Fortunately, another human employee noticed the backup. I told them the issues for both machines, and they fixed each in turn; I finished my transaction and caught the bus.

CVS has a habit of sending out user email surveys. I filled this one out with much of the details stated here. In response, I received this: “Thank you for your feedback regarding your experience at CVS Pharmacy on November 06, 2022. Providing exceptional customer care is a priority for us. .Sorry you had a problem with the self checkout you should not of had to wait that long to have the problem fixed. we should have respond much quicker”

(No, I’m not going to nitpick about the typos and grammar errors. Or even complain that my transaction was on the 3rd of November; my COMMENT was lodged on the 6th.)

It depends

I’ve made my peace with automated transactions. Frankly, I prefer the ATM at my bank to the tedious line I got into at my wife’s credit union last month, where the teller had to take a check written to my wife from our church for reimbursement so I could DEPOSIT it. Moreover, as I’ve noted, my bank, since COVID, now allows withdrawals of five- and ten-dollar bills. Yay!

Self-service gas is fine. Well, except at the local Shoprite because the discount card that one is supposed to scan before the credit card goes in doesn’t always register the discounted price.

I’ll admit that it took me a couple of minutes to suss out the kiosk system at a local fast-food restaurant. It is probably because I go there rarely; I don’t have or want their app.

So self-service is fine IF it works. It sucketh big-time when it does not. And according to this CNN piece from July 2022. “In the biggest headache for store owners, self-checkout leads to more losses due to error or theft than traditional cashiers.

“’If you had a retail store where 50% of transactions were through self-checkout, losses would be 77% higher’ than average, according to Adrian Beck, an emeritus professor at the University of Leicester in the UK who studies retail losses.

“Customers make honest errors as well as intentionally steal at self-checkout machines.”

The title of the piece says it all: “Nobody likes self-checkout. Here’s why it’s everywhere.”

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