There is a lot of hate for the self checkouts in places like Walmart, drug stores and grocery stores. Quite frankly, I like self-serve checkout machines, and I use them. However, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Why do people dislike self-scanners?

When I was in university (around 2005), I worked at Atlantic Superstore as a cashier. During my employment, they installed six u-scan machines. I often was assigned to work at the terminal (sometimes, during busy hours, there were two of us overseeing the six machines) and experienced first-hand the frustrations that people had when operating them.

Unknown item in bagging area. The “bagging area” sits atop a scale and if the scale doesn’t match what has been rung up, it complains. I saw this happen regularly back in the day (often it was a child sitting on it) but I have not come across this problem recently. Maybe the technology has improved?

Items without UPCs. If you happen to not choose produce that has the PLU sticker on it, you need to navigate a menu to find your item. Same goes for bulk food. It’s tedious. I often intervened and typed in PLUs for customers who were looking flustered. I am in the habit of picking out produce that has the sticker on it, to make it easier either for myself or the cashier.

They take away jobs. But do they really? I should get paid for doing this extra work. I’m sorry, what? That’s ludicrous.

Self checkouts are slower. In some cases, yes, they are. I find that small orders (less than ten items or so) can be completed at a comparable speed. When you factor in bag shuffling, cart loading, code searches, etc, it is probably more time-efficient to go to a human cashier when you have more than a few things.

Why I am in favor of self checkouts

First of all, I do not feel entitled to a wage or employee discount simply for scanning my own groceries. That idea boggles my mind. Did you know that customers weren’t always able to help themselves to items on store shelves, either? I wonder if people scoffed at the idea of “self-service grocery stores” in 1916.

If fewer cashiers are needed at the front of the store, employees can focus attention on other things. I admit that I am not familiar the the economics of retail operations. When I worked as a cashier, sometimes I was called away to do other things if I was standing idle. Putting discarded items back on the shelves, stocking shelves, helping in the stock room, etc. How many times have you been unable to find an employee to help you? Maybe if there were fewer cashiers, there would be more people available.

Faster throughput of small orders. If I am only buying a few things, I find it much faster to walk up to a u-scan (which are often free since people are so reluctant to use them) than to wait in line for a human cashier.

Less human interaction. Honestly, sometimes I just don’t want to make small talk. Some people have social anxiety. Sometimes, people are embarrassed by their purchases (i.e. family planning items or some medication) and would rather ring themselves up.

When I opt for a human cashier

Despite liking the idea of self-scan checkouts, I do opt for human cashiers when:

  • I have a big order. Not only is a human faster, but the bagging area of some units is pretty small and can’t accommodate everything.
  • I have a lot of produce or bulk food. Cashiers often have PLU codes memorized.
  • I have coupons to use, or price matching to do. Having an employee verify the coupons, discounts or do the price matching song and dance is more convenient when face-to-face.

I understand that some people are set in their ways. That’s okay. If you don’t like self-serve checkouts, don’t use them. That means the lines will be even shorter for those of us who do!

What are your thoughts? Do you use the self-serve machines? Are you for or against them?

Why I like self checkouts