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Self-checkout poll: How do you roll?

By The Food Section

In today's Food section story about grocery store self-checkout, we interviewed experts, customers in Washington area stores and even timed how long it took to ring up a handful of items.

Now we want to hear from you.

And join us for further discussion at noon: Free Range.

By The Food Section  | November 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags:  Bonnie S. Benwick, shopping  
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I love the Uscans at SuperFresh. A&P was one of the first supermarket chains to offer self checkouts. The IBM systems in use in many supermarkets today are the result of Project Renewal, a $200 million effort by Great A&P to promote software technology that is the basis for what we use today.
I exclusively use self checkouts because they almost never have a bad day. The cheerful voice of "ann page" at SuperFresh or Heidi at Giant leads me through my checkout process. The front-end manager assists when a technical difficulty arises.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | November 10, 2010 7:19 AM | Report abuse

All else being equal I prefer self-checkout at Harris Teeter and Safeway, because then I only have to deal with the idiot ahead of me in line, not that idiot plus the cashier. But of course I know that if I'm buying wine at the self-checkout, the attendant will step away from his/her post just as I scan the wine.

But it's true, you still have to pay attention and go to the store at the right time. At 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon, self-checkout won't help.

Posted by: ajsmithva | November 10, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but I dislike the Giant Scan It Program. I have to bag my own groceries (which means that I have to figure out which order to buy things (first things go in the bottom of the bags), and figure out beforehand how many bags I'll need or I have to go get more. And, I am required to use paperbags as the plastic ones won't stay open in the cart for me to throw items in.), and listen to that stupid scanner beep at me constantly with suggested deals. At the end of it all, I still have to wait on the same long lines as everyone else (self-checkout is no longer an option), so I'm stuck behind someone with a huge order. What do I get out of this? Saving money? No - prices are still the same, no matter which method I use. Saving time? No, as I have to wait on a staffed cashier line, and it takes me longer to bag stuff on my own than an experienced cashier who can see my entire order at once and make decisions on bagging order. To me, it is arrogance on the part of the store to expect me to do all of the work with none of the payoff. And, I would think that it's a perfect solution for shoplifters. Who checks the bags to see if what is registered on the scanner matches the bagged items? Not any cashier I've seen. I stopped doing this a long time ago.

Posted by: ldf1 | November 10, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I love the Giant Scan It! program - and I invaribly see at least a dozen others in my Arlington store using the scanners too. Solution to the shopping bag problem - bring your own recyclables (they stay open) and rearrange as you bag so you're all sorted by the time you get to the checkout. Takes a few seconds per item - is that really so hard? Save bags on the side for large bottles and boxes, and one for soft/light items like produce and eggs/cheese. We've all been going to the grocery store for years and watching our items get bagged, and I've seen dozens of baggers who threw my stuff together in far worse ways than I could - there's no excuse outside a genuine disabiliity for not being able to manage on my own, I think. Plus the deals the scanner offers are based on the store card record of what you bought previously, so it'll start offering you extra discounts on the things you'll buy anyway. Toss in the discount for reusable bags and the ability to go through a self-check lane without trouble (use the self-weighing/tag printing scales in the produce section) and I'm in and out in record time.

Posted by: clodilla | November 10, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Here's how I feel: It's ok in MD, but in DC and VA, where you can buy alcohol at the grocery store and need to get carded, it's frustrating to have to wait for someone to come over and check your ID.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | November 10, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

It's frustrating when people use self checkout and have neither the patience or the capacity to read the instructions....instead they stand there and wait for the person manning the 4 self check out lanes to come help. It's ridiculous and it's the reason that self checkout can take a long time. The system couldn't have clearer instructions.

Further, I don't think self checkout is for a week's worth of groceries, more for just a few items.

Posted by: tsheehan | November 10, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

My first experiences with self-checkout were so horrible, slow and glitch-ridden that I won't go back. If the manned checkout line is so long I'll get through half of Vogue before I get to the front, fine by me.

Posted by: northgs | November 10, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Well, now wait a minute - I use the self-checkout at the local Krogers (I live in Houston, TX) because I'm totally comfortable with it, and I can get in and out - it has little or nothing to do with dealing with, or not dealing with people. I've been shopping at the same Krogers for...gosh, 12 years now, and I know the clerks and the managers very well, and enjoy seeing them. The self checkout is a bonus, means I can get out of the store at my own pace

And if there are any grocery managers reading; if your self checkout is to be used as an express lane, please, please, please enforce this policy at self checkout. Wal Marts in Houston have more self checkouts than any grocery, and allow customers to check out any number of items.

However, at the groceries, it's extremly frustrating to be behind an individual that has 40-50 items, and no clue as to how to use the self checkout, and does not understand that it's an express lane

Posted by: JohnDinHouston | November 10, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I have pretty much stopped shopping at my local SuperFresh because the only lanes open are self-checkout. There is always some problem and one teenaged clerk on duty for multiple lanes. Once I actually took a package of cheese without paying for it. The item would not ring up, no one was around to help and I didn't want to just leave it laying at the register, so I ended up tossing it into my bag. If enough people end up doing that, I guess they will find a way to pay cashiers. That would be cheaper than giving groceries away for free.

Posted by: margaret6 | November 10, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I hate self checkouts. For every self checkout, it deprives a human being of a job.

Posted by: lringel | November 10, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

For the most part, the self-checkouts at Giant are OK. I tend to weigh and tag my produce so it goes more quickly. But I have two peeves. One is that it can be awkward when one person finishes and starts to bag their items and the person behind them starts scanning only to have their groceries join and mix with those being bagged. Why can't there be some sort of divider to keep the groceries separate?

Second peeve is that one time my debit card did not work and I---along with most of the people within a 100 ft radius--- was informed of this loudly by that Voice. I went to customer service and they said there was no problem with the card, that the machine does that sometimes!

Posted by: lilymama | November 10, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I love self-checkout, but I'm in L.A. Ours don't have the conveyor belts (not sure I'd like those as once you were done scanning and paying, you'd still have to bag your stuff). As you scan your item you place it in the bags which rest on shelves, scan your coupons, pay and you're done. These systems can't handle your own bags, but you can bring back the same plastic grocery bags and use those.

By the way, I'm ending my 7th decade and am faster checking out than a lot of idiots much younger than I. I resent all the "old folks can't handle technology" comments.

Posted by: NonyMous | November 10, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

The machines take away jobs. I won't use them.

Posted by: jckdoors | November 10, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not crazy about them. I think it generally takes longer to use them than if you have a reasonably skillful checkout person because most people are just not practiced at it. And that is when they work. Maybe half of the time I have used one, they won't scan items, or won't accept commands like "finish and pay" or they think you have an item in the wrong place when you don't. I use them when there is no other viable option but really don't like them a lot.

Posted by: catherine3 | November 10, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I like the Scan-It at Giant--it's kinda fun. Working 2 jobs, I have to shop on my "break" and I'm able to bag things the way I want them for storage until I get home--bringing my own bags of course. It isn't at all about avoiding people, but avoiding lines since I have limited time, having a more customized bagging experience. Otherwise I'm always fighting with the cashiers who want to put every other thing in a plastic bag when I prefer not to use any plastic.

Posted by: pattyc1 | November 10, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I view the self-scans in two ways. The first issue I take about having self-checkout registers is coming from a personal fear because my primary source of income was yanked out from under me as my job is now being performed in Russia........Now I am employed part-time in a grocery store and only see self-checkouts as the way to cut back on human employment to save the company money.
That leads into my 2nd issue - as a consumer. The company benefits from requiring fewer employees yet they do not offer a discount to the customers who are scanning and bagging their own orders. (I recall when gas stations went self-serve, and they were always less per gallon if you pumped your own.) Why are we so easily led into working for nothing? They'll tell you it keeps prices they seem lower to anyone out there?
Now onto the scanning devices on the shopping carts - this is nutz! So now even some of the lowest paid jobs are going to be lost because we're willing to do the work ourselves like a bunch of pawns to the big businesses.
Everyone says "I'm in a hurry." "I don't have time." I think it's time to stop being suckered into the lifestyle most have joined into before we all wake up one day with an even weaker country than it already has become. Everyone else is getting our jobs and since we can't go through checkouts in other countries for them to have cheaper labor, we're allowing machines to take our jobs!!

Posted by: hsfred | November 10, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Up here in Hagerstown we have a grocery store that is own by Giant called Martins.

They have a self check out where you scan your bonus card at a station, get your own scanner, scan and bag your items as you go. Then, at checkout, you scan a "end of shopping" bar code, scan your bonus card and it pulls up your order. All it asks is if you have any additional items to add, any coupons, and then you pay and go.
Its easy and fast, I've rarely had to wait more then a couple of minutes, if that. There is always someone on duty to help or to do random checks to make sure you aren't stealing, and when they do check your order they always give you a coupon for a couple bucks off your order.

The best part of it though, is the scanner tells you exactly how much you are spending! Its perfect for when you are on budget and to make sure you are getting items on sale.

In other stores, the worst part of self checkout is the computer glitches that hold you up, like the bags not weighing what the computer thinks it should be or whatever.

Posted by: SarahMitt | November 10, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I'll admit that I frequent Walmart to save a few bucks on groceries.

Walmart's self-checkout is great, because most of the time, it's not in use. A large percentage of their customers seem to want to go through the regular cashiered lines and the only conclusion one can make, is that they aren't smart enough to use the self-checkout.

So far, this phenomena seems only to apply to Walmart.

Posted by: veerle1 | November 10, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

These systems are responsible for job losses. Very dumb. I won't go through one & I am computer tech savvy. I will not cooperate.

Posted by: giuliageranium | November 10, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Just asking, and I'm not being cynical, but guiliageranium wrote:
"These systems are responsible for job Very dumb. I won't go through one & I am computer tech savvy. I will not cooperate."

As much as I like and appreciate check-out clerks, and there is no way I would call them idiots as others have done in the comments, do you use self-service gas pumps and see a benefit, or would you be willing to pay a penny or two or three per gallon for service? (Before you ask, yes, I would.)

Posted by: Dungarees | November 10, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

The problem is rarely the checkout system itself (other than the idiotic "Weigh your product" system).

The problem it the person in line ahead of you for which automated checkout is apparently some sort of IQ test, which they are failing.

If we could separate out all the folks who *think* they can operate simple machines from those who can, the whole process would be much faster.

Posted by: ian807 | November 10, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I love self-checkout. I really don't want one more person handling my food; enough already have.

Posted by: --sg | November 10, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I love self-checkout. I use it at both Fry's and Safeway. The only time I don't use it is when I have those monster cart loads full. Otherwise most trips I can get in and out faster via self check. Besides when I sack my bread doesn't get squished and cleaning supplies don't get put in the same bag as food. I like being able to sort at the store to make putting it away faster at home.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | November 10, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

The only part I don't like is when the laser shines right in my eye.

Posted by: AnotherContrarian | November 10, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

I love self check at Giant. What I find annoying about it is people who get in the line with large amounts of items, don't know how to use the system, don't READ THE DIRECTIONS ON THE SCREEN, and really need to go to a live human checkout.

And after years of having clerks bang my bruise prone fruit on the scale, try to overload bags with too many items, mash my bread, etc, all while chatting with their neighboring clerks, or not even bothering to say "thank you", I am more than happy to sort and pack my own groceries.

The U Scan it devices are fabulous. Bring your own bags to the store, pack them as you go,swipe your scanner and your card and your checkout and you are out of there! And if you have kids and take them shopping they will love helping you--and probably show YOU how if you're not tech savvy.

Posted by: concepcion611 | November 10, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind them but the problem is that they take much longer if you are by yourself because you cannot bag the groceries while you scan. Every once in a while a worker will bag it for you but not always.

The other problems are the machine won't accept your bill (I always pay cash), the printer jams with your receipt, or (on the rare occasion), the scanned item is not in the system. And I always have a mental block with green peppers. I keep looking under "G" instead of "Peppers, Green"

Posted by: taonima2000 | November 10, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Don't like them because they take away jobs and require more effort on my part.

My friend had a single mother who made her living as check out clerk. This used to be a decent union job one could raise a child on. Now, it's profit for IBM and I assume for the grocery stores at the expense of customers who now do the work instead. The article didn't say if it is more cost effective for the grocery stores to replace workers with these machines.

Posted by: WorldCup | November 11, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I was able to speak to the people at the store today who are promoting the hand held scan-it devices and they said how it generally increases the number of items purchased per customer in their visits. So - you have companies getting free labor with customers ringing their own purchases AND bagging them as well as buying more during that experience.
The self-checkouts are all the same gains for the COMPANY. This particular store has 4 of them which means they do not have to pay for 4 cashiers and 4 baggers. Big savings for them, but what does it do for the little guy's economy?
And in the meantime, there will be less need on the company's part to hire your teens for the usual summer grocery job or to supplement your meager retirement incomes later on. How did we get so blind?? I will NOT use these "conveniences". Enough already!

Posted by: hsfred | November 12, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I love the self checkout! As a former grocery store employee, the way cashiers bag my stuff can be hit-or-miss, so I love doing it myself (I am still very fast). Also, in the chat there was much said about using your own bag, and that's a problem, but at my Harris Teeter all you do is hit the "my bag" button on the screen at the beginning, put your bag on the scale, and it tares it so you are good to continue bagging while checking out. Do other stores not have that option? Seems a no-brainer, especially in DC with the bag law.

Posted by: MishiL | November 12, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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