Cashier or Self-Checkout, You Decide

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Home Depot self checkout (Photo by WhispertoMe / CC0 1.0)

While shopping at Home Depot recently, I noticed a significant change to the store layout, especially at what used to be the cashier checkout area. Although they had installed a handful of self-checkout lanes a few years ago, now the tables had turned and there was only a handful remaining that were staffed by a cashier.

If you are looking for a reason online shopping has become so popular, look no further than the shopper’s final stop in any retail store—waiting on the cashier line to pay for what you have painstakingly just spent two hours shopping for. Somehow, many retailers have decided to improve the in-store checkout experience with a brilliant solution: self-checkout. Instead of waiting on a line for a cashier to check you out, you can now wait to do it yourself.

Waiting on the self-checkout line for your turn is worse than having that guy in front of you at the ATM, looking at the screen like it’s covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics. People naively gravitate to self-checkout without any clue what pressure they are about to experience. Although scanning technology has come a long way in the last few years, some people still can’t get the hang of finding and scanning that barcode, a skill every cashier has mastered.
Items without barcodes are now a nightmare. Loose fruits and vegetables, along with fresh bread, don’t have a barcode sticker. Do you know how many screens I went through to pay for two rolls? First, you select “no bar code,” then a letter range. I chose “N-R,” but of course, I couldn’t find “roll” under the letter “R.” Turns out you must look under the letter “B,” for “bakery.” Please understand, I am an IT professional that uses computers all day long. What chance does Grandma Jackie have finding beefsteak tomatoes?

To a retailer’s bottom line, self-checkout means fewer cashiers on the payroll. Instead, they assign one lonely employee who must assist all six not-so-self-sufficient self-checkout customers. Unfortunately, everyone has a different problem at the same time.

I find myself often drifting back to the regular cashier. With the fast pace of Long Island, positioning yourself on the quickest lane is a strategy game for most of us. When choosing a line at the supermarket, the shortest one is not always the most efficient. It’s not the number of people already on the line; it’s how much is loaded into their carts. The cashier also comes into play. Wouldn’t you rather have a seasoned veteran that looks like they’ve been around the block a couple of times or the teenage kid who will spend a lot of time on the store intercom asking for a price check?

I like to play a game with myself after making my decision on what line to join, racing against my other choices, providing a small sense of accomplishment if I reach the cashier first. Of course, there are times when no matter how deductive you are, there are unforeseen circumstances that lead to delays. Credit cards that don’t work at crucial times, someone whipping out a checkbook or the dreaded override that needs a supervisor to approve.

If retailers are trying harder to get us into their stores, they should be making it easier for us to purchase what we want and get out, not more difficult. We need more cashiers, not less. Shoppers shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in Computer Programming to find a price for loose produce.

Online shopping and delivery to our front door aren’t going away, they’re actually growing in popularity. Walmart recently announced a pilot program for its delivery service, providing an option to deliver your perishable items directly into your fridge. What’s next, having the kid straighten my Tupperware cabinet?

Now that’s a service I would pay for.

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