The Checkout

Self-Checkout Blues

Timothy M. Breen of Wheaton recently wrote me to complain about the self-checkout aisles that have proliferated in many supermarkets. Here's his e-mail:

"I was wondering what others thought about Giant Food's self-checkout aisles. My problem with them is that if one utilizes the self-checkout, all one is doing is adding to Giant's profit margin. If Giant was serious and transparent in their 'push' to have consumers utilize the self-checkouts, then Giant would include a 2-5% discount as an incentive."

I asked Giant about Mr. Breen's e-mail and spokesman Jamie Miller said the self-checkouts were strictly for convenience, for people who had only a few items and wanted to avoid the lines for a staffed-checkout.

It's not just Giant that's been installing these machines. More than half of all supermarket firms have self-checkout at least on a trial basis and many on a more permanent, widespread basis, said Todd Hultquist, a spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers. And they're not just in supermarkets, but in other retail outlets as well, such as Home Depot. "Today's consumers want to have control of the process and that's what self-checkout does," Hultquist said. Meanwhile, automated checkouts give retailers the flexibility to "reallocate resources"--i.e. staff-- to provide more customer service in other areas of the store, he said.

Personally, I've rarely used the self-checkouts. That's because I think of it only when there are long lines at the staffed checkouts. But then, there are also long lines at the self-checkouts. And since most people using them are fairly inexperienced (myself included), the self-checkouts seem to go slower.

As always, I'm eager to hear your thoughts. Fire away.

By  |  April 21, 2006; 7:23 AM ET Customer Service
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Comments

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Seems to me that there would be no need for these lines if the cashier staff in stores was helpful and efficient, rather than what I ususally experience - staff with an I don't care attitude. I've been cashier myself and I know that it's not the most exciting job in the world but a cheerful attitude makes all the difference, and customers who say hello and are generally polite and acknowledge that you are a human being and not an automatron really helps too!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 8:10 AM

I was excited to see the self-checkout over 3 years ago at the Giant in Germantown. Then, a friend of mine made the same point that Mr. Breen makes, i.e., Giant is charging the same prices for LESS service. I haven't used the self-check since then. And don't even get me started on Home Depot. The last time I went there, ALL of the checkouts were self-check. After waiting 30 minutes for someone to fetch my furnace filters from the rafters, I was NOT going to check myself out. I went to the CONTRACTORS check-out that was staffed by a human. I'll use self-check when I'm convinced that we, as consumers, are getting the benefit of those "reallocated resources."

Posted by: pvh1 | April 21, 2006 8:29 AM

I don't see much merit to Mr. Breen's complaint or to your claim of "blues" in the self-checkout lane. Giant is right -- self-checkout is a convenience that I happily use to bypass slowpokes such as you.

Profit margins in the grocery business are tight enough to guarantee that any savings will eventually be passed on to consumers. However, you shouldn't necessarily expect a special discount for using these registers since they are indeed a convenience that customers value.

If Mr. Breen is unhappy with self-checkout he can continue to use the traditional register and still pay the lower price. What's to complain about?

Your comments about "inexperience" are sad. Try something new. It's not hard. I sense a fear of innovation in both of you.

Posted by: bb | April 21, 2006 8:29 AM

I simply love this new technology. I'm rather disheartened when other local supermarkets do not have them. It is very convenient to use when other lines are long. I speak for most young adults from my generation; we no longer value the personal interaction with humans during shopping transactions. We are set on what we want and would like the expedite the closure of that process. However, I do get frustrated when those who are inexperienced use the self-checkout terminals. I find myself assisting out of sheer annoyance. I'm sure when the ATM was introduced many people felt the same way, but most people use the ATM now more than ever.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 8:30 AM

I think the ONLY reason for self-check-outs is the $$$$$. If the stores are trying to give us convenience then how come with all the check out lanes that most of them have but only a few are ever OPEN. Their lights are OUT. Also, they are downsizing their employees.

Posted by: Don Curran | April 21, 2006 8:31 AM

I don't use the self-checkout aisles. It would take me forever if I did because I just wouldn't be doing it often enough to get very "experienced" at it. I think they are a terrible idea because they cut down on the number of checkers without speeding anything up. I hope the grocery stores I go to will continue to have checkers. If they get rid of all of them, it's Peapod for me. Of course, maybe that is what the Giant is trying to get people to do! That bit about "consumers wanting to control the process" - puhleeze. Giant doesn't even offer to help you get your groceries to the car, much less load them in the car for you anymore like they used to. Pretty soon they'll make customers grind their own hamburger. There's a difference between "self-service" and "lousy service" and Giant has got one toe over the line.

Posted by: lily | April 21, 2006 8:32 AM

"I speak for most young adults from my generation; we no longer value the personal interaction with humans during shopping transactions." And that goes the opposite way as well - we get cashiers and clerks who have no sense of personal interaction with the customers. Too many times have I been "waited on" by a cashier who was more involved in the personal phone call s/he was on than in completing my transaction. I routinely request that the cashier either hang up or put the phone down while waiting on me.

But, that's off the subject. I use the self-checkout lanes when I have a few items, but prefer the human interaction with the cashiers. And I usually try to engage them in conversation, even though it may only be light banter. We can all stand around staring at mindless screens, or actually interact with those around us.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 8:36 AM

I'm a young person, and I've been using self check-outs happily for years. I prefer helping myself to an often-surly sales clerk and it can make the shopping experience faster... that is, if the computer isn't programmed to "slow mode" and the folks in front of you know what they're doing.

My biggest complaint, actually, is with Giant's particular flavor of self check-out. I'm new to the area, and I was surprised to find that Giant's computers read the item name, item price (and savings, if any) aloud. I have never had this experience at Giant Eagle, Kroger, Albertson's, Safeway or any other grocery store. What's the purpose of this? Can I turn it off? What if I don't want all of Giant to know I'm buying condoms and prune juice?

Posted by: rebecca | April 21, 2006 8:39 AM

I've used the ones at Giant, and I think they're awful. They're trying to "mimic" the interaction with a person by having the thing talk to you, and it's slow, cranky, and has to stop you so many times that you might as well have a person there. The one at my local home depot is great, and Harris Teeter has them, and they're very popular there. Previous posters were correct that it's about experience, but if you've been there a few times and you're just running in to get a thing or two for dinner, it's a breeze. Yes, the lines are often long, but it's one line for 4 or 6 checkout machines, so they move really fast.

Posted by: Kevin R | April 21, 2006 8:42 AM

I live in New York, and the self-checkout terminals at the grocery stores that have them often experience technical problems. Then a staff member who actually knows how to fix them must be located and come over to tinker with them. Added to the inexperience of many customers trying to use them, this makes the self-check aisles a complete waste of time. If stores want to focus on customer service, adding more staffed checkouts would be far more useful. The self-checkout aisles seem about as convenient as the computerized phone menus we get when we call most companies. Neither of these "innovations" make me feel more in "control of the process."

Posted by: L | April 21, 2006 8:47 AM

Here in Dayton, OH, home to NCR Corp. self-checkout is everywhere. In most stores it is an alternative for small orders, and while it may help the bottom line for the store the main benefit seems to be a way of adding four small order lanes by one employee. By having more small order lines it encourages people to come to the store more often because they know they can get in and out quickly.

That said, the abuse of self-checkout has already started. The checkout lanes at my local Wal-Mart are chronically understaffed and slow. Therefore small and large orders are both sent to self-checkout to try and get out of the store faster. The result is long lines everywhere and slower service. The only reason I ever go in that store anymore is for emergency items, and even then I try to go at off-peak times.

I only hope the self-checkout abuse by companies does not spread. This also should be notice to Wal-Mart competitors that great customer service is one way to compete and beat Wal-Mart.

Checking out is only going to change again as companies work to introduce radio tags in packaging.

Posted by: Walmart | April 21, 2006 8:54 AM

Please, if you are slow and don't want to figure out the self-checkouts, continue to use the full service aisles! The only problem with Giant/Home Depot/Others is that you can't actually use the self checkout lines fast enough.

I'm still amazed by the people who go up to the lines and get a perplexed look like they've never seen a computer screen or scanner and have no idea how to work the system. IT'S NOT THAT HARD!

Posted by: TMD | April 21, 2006 8:55 AM

Before there were self-checkouts, didn't people complain about the clerks and the baggers? Too slow, too dumb, put the bread in the same bag as the fruit, broke the eggs, didn't double-bag, insisted on double-bagging, gave me paper when I wanted plastic, scanned some item twice, whatever. People have always said if you want something done right you've got to do it yourself -- and now that we have the opportunity to do it ourselves, y'all are complaining about it? Gosh.

And it's not like anyone is *required* to use the self-check, is it? The stores aren't so much charging the same price for less service as they are offering me an option of getting out in five minutes instead of half an hour -- and call me crazy, but my time is worth more to me than whatever they're paying the high-schooler at the register.

Posted by: can't please some of the people any of the time | April 21, 2006 8:58 AM

I LOVE self check-out machines. Quite often when I buy groceries, it's being done at the last minute, so it's much easier to run in, grab what I need and check out. Doing this prevents me from getting stuck in a line where the cashier and the customer talk far after the transaction is complete (it's a small town so people like to be nosy, er uh I mean friendly with everyone). If people are really worried about the grocery story making more profit, then stand in line. Besides, I'll gladly let a grocery store keep the extra profit because I gain convenience. It's a nice trade-off. As a side note, if people think that self checkouts aren't gonna last and that they are impersonable, just wait. I was at a Costco last month and when we went to checkout, the clerk approached our cart with a small computerized gun and scanned all the items in our cart (without totally removing them) and printed a receipt. We handed that receipt to the cashier and swiped my credit card and we were out the door. Awesome. I can't wait for RFID prices to fall so that before long we will literally just walk out of the store without ever having to stand in line.

Posted by: kegdoctor | April 21, 2006 9:12 AM

I've used the self-checkout lines at Giant frequently enough to be fairly fast using it, but here's what worries me: based on the number of open cashier-staffed lines I see, apparently Giant has cut staff along with giving us the "option" to check ourselves out, so soon it will be like the bank, which expects you to use the ATM and provides just two or three tellers on a busy Saturday morning for everyone's large or complicated transactions. What next? Will Giant expect us to unload groceries from the delivery trucks and stock the shelves too?

Posted by: Suspicious | April 21, 2006 9:15 AM

I like them when they work. Had a problem a the Giant in Rockville and "requested help". Minutes went by and nobody came. Finally I said in a loud voice "Can I please get some assistance at this self-checkout?" You could have heard a pin drop after that. Two employees quickly came to help. My wife won't shop with me anymore.

And if you have to identify produce for the machine, they must put the numbers on the produce. Scolling through the list for Gala apples was problematic since Gala apples weren't on the list - nice.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 9:19 AM

I love self-checkout!

I really like not having to talk to anyone during my shopping trip. I can listen to cool music on my iPod up and down the aisles and not have to stop listening in order to make small talk with a stranger. I’m an introvert, okay?? I don’t like talking to strangers.

And self-checkout is fun. It’s all so… digital!

I’m enthusiastically awaiting the day when EVERTHING is “self-checkout”. Wouldn’t it be cool to go into a restaurant where you didn’t have to talk to anyone!!? You go in and sit down, there’s a machine at the table where you select your menu choices and slide your credit/debit card. When your food is ready it comes to you on a conveyor belt (like the ones they have at sushi restaurants) that’s programmed to stop in front of your table. You can order more food or drinks if you want or, if you’re done and ready to leave, you just push a “checkout” button on the machine and it totals up your bill and prints out a receipt for you. You don’t have to deal with a single human being during the whole experience!

I’d love that!

Posted by: Rebecca Hartong | April 21, 2006 9:26 AM

Ok, call me a glutton for punishment. I like the self checkouts because I like to shop. I take my time, decide whether I use cash or credit, cash back, pay, and go.
Mind you, I only use it when I have 15 or fewer items because my "normal" grocery day has over 100 items. If I used the self-checkout then, the store manager would have to lock me in until the next morning, which would be ok because I'd qualify for a free Starbucks drink.

Posted by: LPH | April 21, 2006 9:26 AM

Self checkouts are great when you have a few items that are easily scanned. What annoys me is my local Home Depot. They have four self checkout lines and only one full-service line. When buying bulky items, I have no choice but to stand in the long lines staffed by the cashier. These days it seems like the self-checkout lanes seem to out number the staffed lines. The least a store could do is open up more staffed lines when customer's choose not to , or can't, use the self-checkout lines.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 9:26 AM

"I speak for most young adults from my generation; we no longer value the personal interaction with humans during shopping transactions."

Wow! That is a sad, sad statement. As far as I know, human beings are a social animal. But if you want to spend your life texting away on a phone, IMing on a computer, and avoiding face-to-face contact with anyone outside your existing social circle... well, have at it. But I think it's creepy and unnatural. And, to be honest, the effects on that generation starting to show -- so many of the younger employees at my firm just do not have the interpersonal skills they should have by the age of 25.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 9:32 AM

Giant in Severna Park, MD has many self-checkout lanes, but they also have human staff bagging your groceries while you are scanning them which is a big help, and I don't mind using them at all.
Home Depot in Annapolis, on the other hand, has self-checkout lanes as their ONLY choice. The problem is that these checkout machines don't work well, they constantly don't recognize items, or want you to take the item out of the bagging area and scan again etc.--very frustrating.
I think that
1) self-checkout lanes should be provided for convenience only and only as an option alongside human-staffed checkout lane
2) self-checkout machines must work!!!

Posted by: Jamie | April 21, 2006 9:34 AM

I agree with some of the other posters that the comments of the "younger generation" are sad. I see that younger people do not have the interpersonal skills that we had when we were their age. I have also been checked out by cashiers who would clearly prefer to be doing anything else than waiting on me. That is always a less-than-pleasant experience for me and it always makes me pine for the good old days when Giant was all about customer service.

That said, I love the self check-out lanes for one reason: the machines almost always accept expired coupons!

Posted by: Dana | April 21, 2006 9:56 AM

I WOULD like self-checkout a lot more if it worked right more of the time. About half the time at Home Depot I have to call for help because the system can't recognize the specific item I'm trying to scan. That defeats the purpose of having self-checkout, because you have to not only use a real live person, you have to WAIT for them to mosey on over and help you (even though frequently they're about 5 ft away).

In the supermarket, it has worked a lot better. Still, that situation happens TOO frequently. It makes getting into the self-checkout line a risk! You risk holding up the whole line while waiting for a live person to come rescue you.

The idea is good; in theory, self-checkout COULD be more efficient. But the execution of it needs to be improved to make it worthwhile.

Posted by: CheckYourself | April 21, 2006 10:00 AM

Supermarket companies are forcing us into self-checkouts by cutting back on the number of cashiers. We endure long waits in normal lines not because the humans doing the work are slow or incompentent. Their employers have made a business decision to schedule as few cashiers as possible to lower labor costs.

Others have implied that customers might see lower prices due to the supermarkets passing along savings. This is simply not true. What sets Giant or any other supermarket apart from other food store is the service and the customer experience. When companies cut back on service, it drives customers away. The workers in the stores will grow more resentful and unhappy as they lose more hours, work harder for less pay.

Personally, there's no way I will ever use a self-checkout. I value the interaction with a real person at the checkstand. And, when I'm trying to entertain my two kids and keep them out of trouble, I'm more than happy to have a casher ring up and bag my cart load of groceries.

Posted by: Jill | April 21, 2006 10:01 AM

Home Depot's self checkout is awful. The machines are supposed to be able to tell when you've put something in the bag after scanning it, and if you don't, they yell at you. But they aren't sensitive enough to detect small items. It's the most frustrating thing when the machine is insisting that you need to put the 1/2-ounce sponge you just bought into the bag, and you're like, you electronic piece of crap, it's there! ...and then, as someone mentioned, the five-minute wait for someone to mosey over and help you.

Posted by: h3 | April 21, 2006 10:13 AM

Whoever values the privilege to interact with a human high enough to sacrifice your time in the less than pleasant way of waiting in line, that is your thing. Although I find it usually rather pelasant to have a short chat with a cashier, I always prefer to spend the least of my time waiting - which means I love self-checkout and use it as often as I can.

And yes, the Rockville Giant is horrible, it has regularly 3-4 registers open out of 15 available.

Posted by: 20850 | April 21, 2006 10:18 AM

Count me with those who use self checkout to get past the slowpokes. I check faster than most supermarket clerks, but I also have other skills, so it's not my job, but nonetheless it's time efficient for me to use self checkout. (Comparative advantage at work.)

I only wish they had a frequent users lane, or a novice lane, so that the people who have no idea how to scan a bottle of beer or look up red onions can take their own sweet time without holding up the line for those of us who know what we are doing.

Posted by: andrew | April 21, 2006 10:21 AM

Alright now, before any of you folks get your knickers in a twist, let's not get started on the "tragedy" of young people. I'm 27, and I read that comment of "younger generation" and shook my head, knowing that people were going to jump on that and lay blame. I have perfectly pleasant social skills and get along quite well with anyone I've ever worked with, and don't appreciate the idea that people my age are essentially called uncouth and impolite and blamed for every ill of society. In fact, if anyone's to blame it's the middle-aged generation who've raised these "young people" to be less respectful and less aware of others (hello? parenting?).
That said (slight tangent there), I love the self-checkout as well, and it's because of the same reasons listed: rudeness and inattentiveness by cashiers, slow pace, not getting your stuff put together properly (I mean, other than putting all cold items together on the belt, which I do, how much clearer do I have to be that you don't put milk in with soda and cheese with cereal boxes?!?). If I have to rebag it, which I often do right after they've done it, why bother in the first place?
It may or may not be because stores are greedy and they want to get rid of cashiers, but if they're not willing to address the problems people face with cashiers then this is the next best solution, and I'm willing to use it.

Posted by: Younger person here | April 21, 2006 10:22 AM

I have to agree that as a young person, I love automated service wherever it is available--I love grocery self checkout, airport eticket kiosks, automated movie theater ticket machines, etc. If only they had it everywhere. I can check myself out faster, don't have to deal with surly employees, and can chat happily on the phone or listen to music without feeling rude. And no, I don't have poor social skills. I know how to interact politely with people, but I GREATLY value my time and so many employees are just rude anyway. What I HATE are the people who use these things and don't know how. Go to the regular lines! No place is this worse than IKEA, where people have no clue how to scan the barcodes and take ages to check-out. They should have a special line for people to learn the system where they can go slowly without annoying others.

Posted by: Mar | April 21, 2006 10:22 AM

2 points:

WOW !! Okay, slightly off subject, but for Rebecca H -- I truly hope you are being sarcastic. Part of me wants to believe you are, but the medium you're communicating in doesn't necessarily lend itself to conveying the tone necessary for me to be sure. And if you're not, then I feel incredibly sorry for you and others who have expressed similar thoughts.

This desire to "digitize" and cut oneself off from human contact is truly troubling. I won't even go into the reams of psychological research detailing a causal link between lack of human interaction and sociopathic behaviour.

Funny, growing up (and I'm not THAT old), we didn't call them "introverts", we called them "loners", as in "the gunman was described by his classmates as a loner..."

Posted by: Afraid for the Future of the Human Race? | April 21, 2006 10:23 AM

I like using the self checkouts at Harris Teeter in Arlington, because I've found that I care more about my food than the cashiers do. I got so sick of the cashiers constantly bruising my fruit when they bag it, or not even knowing what some of the produce items were. If I do it myself, I can be more careful with my things.

That being said, has anyone here ever used the self checkout at the Shoppers in Potomac Yard? Their system is horrendous, and I would always pick the cashiers there.

Posted by: Melanie | April 21, 2006 10:39 AM

I love self checkouts. I usually want to get in and out fast, and because I use them all the time, I'm usually much faster than the checkout person. I don't care that it costs the grocery store less, I'm getting what I want. It seems to me that the stores are giving people like me that option, while preserving the staffed checkouts for people like you who prefer that. We all get what we want, and the store saves money, a win-win all around.

Posted by: aaaaaa | April 21, 2006 10:46 AM

PROS:
I love the self-checkouts in my local Giant (ChainBridge Rd, McLean).

It's often quicker especially if you know how to use it.
They usually have someone who helps with bagging.
The self-checkout aisles have no candy which is great when I have my toddler with me.

When I go thru the cashier lanes I've never had a problem with rude cashiers. They are always pleasant and get the job done quickly. But I still prefer the self-checkout lanes because I can scan even faster.

CONS:
I don't like the fact that it speaks to you though. I can see my items scrolling on the screen just fine. I don't need it to announce to the store what I've bought. And the voice gets hopelessly behind. There have been several times that I've left the store with my bagged groceries and the thing is still reading off my purchases (which really perplexes the person who was in line behind me).

Trying to checkout with produce without a # on it. If I have a lot of produce I go thru the regular cashier lane.

They don't have a self-checkout lane open early in the morning or late at night (and this is a 24-hour Giant). To me, that would be the best time of all to have them open.

Posted by: Karen | April 21, 2006 10:47 AM

The only self-checkout I use is at Harris Teeter on Glebe Road in Arlington because they appear to move quicker than the cashier checkouts.

That said, when I shop there I'm only buying a few items and everything I buy is bar-coded, not produce, so there's no additional scrolling for picture items or whatever.
What does slow me down, however, is that I have to consciously think of what I have in my cart in order to scan the appropriate item to go in the bottom of the bag first, and not something soft or fragile to be followed by the heavier and more bulky item.

What I do notice a lot of is people who scan who have problems putting their groceries in the bag in the first place, and then put one or two items in a bag, one or two in the next bag, etc., and end up with numerous bags.
And, people don't have a concept of having money in their pocket before they start scanning; they'll scan first, then look for their wallet, look for their money, putz around looking for change rather than bills and getting more change from the rounded off dollars inserted. Fortunately the machines take bills facing either direction, face up or face down; but even then people seem to have problems inserting bills, as if they've never used bills at the Metro machine.
.

that I have do additional scrolling for, so it's generally a simple process..
Most stores I shop at don't have I avoided self check-

Posted by: Jeff | April 21, 2006 10:50 AM

If by the younger generation you mean under 50, then count me (at 44) as part of the group. While my wife will chitchat with anyone, I really have no use to get into a personal conversation with some anonymous cashier at Safeway. I can be pleasant, but please, focus on scanning and bagging -- that's it, that's the list (to quote Mr. Tony).

Stores like Giant and Home Depot should have a sign at the self-service machines asking "Are you sure that you know what you are doing and will not needlessly delay your fellow shoppers? If not, please see an associate for assistance." My personal pet peeve, parents who think that is "cute" to have little Johnny or Mary scan items and push the buttons. While some of these kids may be more tech-savvy than their parents, do this on your own time.

I don't care that self-service is saving Giant money at my expense. The value to my mental health is worth it. My only complaint about Giant over Harris Teeter is that Giant feels compelled to have someone watch over the process, while HT minds its own business.

Posted by: TJK | April 21, 2006 10:53 AM

The self-checkout at Home Depot is unable to recognize that you have an oversized item that doesn't fit into a bag. I was buying Tiki Torches and once they were scanned I moved them to the side - all I kept hearing was "put item in bag" "put item in bag". I had to get a "real" person to fix it. Not so efficient. Small items ok but you can't mix.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | April 21, 2006 10:53 AM

I don't go to the grocery store to receive service. I go there to buy my food and get home, and the self-checkout lanes are often faster than waiting behind someone who has an envelope of disorganized coupons and wants to pay with a check. Personally I even find the convenience lanes kind of fun. Giant can have their profit margin!

Posted by: Washington | April 21, 2006 11:03 AM

I love the Giant self scan checkouts. They are done right and very easy to use. My wife and I use them for our weekly shopping where we fill the cart. We get out of the store much faster than when they only had cashiers. As to the criticism of they only add to Giant's profit, well true but then the whiner complaining about them also is the same guy demanding lowest possible cost for his groceries. They do help keep personnel costs under control which results in more competitive retail pricing.

The self scans at Home Depot and the Shoppers Food Warehouse chains however; are not so professionally done and can be very frustrationg. Once a Home depot self scanner actually short changed me! Go figure.

Posted by: JS in Hyattsville | April 21, 2006 11:07 AM

Even self checkout doesn't eliminate one of the most frequent causes of stalled check out lines. Items mispriced or not priced at all. Since most of the large retailers' profits comes quatitiy - mass merchandise moving out the door as quickly as possible you'd think that's where they'd put the extra $s and effort.

Posted by: Vinson Nash | April 21, 2006 11:07 AM

If self-checkout is accepted, is self-stocking next? When shelves are bare, the store's warehouse is right there. All the stores need do is post a few release of liability notices and the way is clear for total "consumer control" of the shopping experience.

Posted by: ccs | April 21, 2006 11:07 AM

Those who don't like self-checkouts can always shop in D.C.! The new, and very nice, Giant in Columbia Heights does not have a single one. Nor does the Whole Foods at 14th & P, a store so busy it now has something like 18 checkout lanes.

Posted by: Logan North | April 21, 2006 11:09 AM

"I see that younger people do not have the interpersonal skills that we had when we were their age."

Meh.

Given the skills we have now that you don't at your age, I think it's a pretty fair tradeoff.

Enjoy your nostalgia -- it wasn't as good as you remember.

Posted by: Blep | April 21, 2006 11:11 AM

I know this is kind of a tangent but, to the "younger generation" who have posted here defending their personal interaction skills: I need people who can handle themselves with poise and communicate politely, professionally, and effectively, FACE TO FACE, with everyone from senior managment to workers in the manufacturing plant. Talking on your cell two hours a day to your friends does NOT help you practice these kinds of skills. Sorry! I know it's annoying to paint a whole generation with this broad brush, but I'm continually shocked at how my younger colleagues stumble when the situation can't be handled using email or some other technological "mediator."

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 11:11 AM

I don't understand all these people who use self-serve because they don't like the way the cashier bags their groceries. What's so hard about saying, nicely, "I'd like to keep all my frozen items together" or "please split these into two bags"? Try it. Sometimes you get the eye-roll from the cashier, but that's their problem.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 11:17 AM

I refuse to use them. I am not techno phobic and have used them but decided it was another mechanism for the business to short-cut and cut their workers. So I will stand in line and when requested to go through them (as has happened), I refuse and explain why. So the business has a choice. Long lines at live cashiers or the machines. Businesses tend to not like lines as it makes them look slow and bad and I have no problem with that at all.

Posted by: Richard | April 21, 2006 11:24 AM

Like many others, I LOVE the self-checkout. Sure, they are not without their glitches but to me the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Perhaps the biggest reason I like the self-checkout is that I bring my own canvas/reusable bags to the grocery store and I no longer have to deal with store clerks who say "Your own bags? What?" or freak out when I say I'd much rather have them fill one canvas bag than three plastic ones (inevitiably they still only put 4 items in my canvas sack). Unless I'm in Whole Foods or Earth Fare (far too pricey fo me each week) cashiers never seem to kow what to do with the bags I hand them.

Also, I grew weary of answering "What's this?" when I had cilantro or kiwi or other produce that isn't a common apple. So what if I now know the code for bananas is 4410? I am out the door in half the time.

Posted by: kb | April 21, 2006 11:30 AM

Thank you for bringing up this point. I despise the so-called self-checkout on many levels. I see those machines as one less job for the community, and more work for me. I’m not trying to give the store my money, and then be an unpaid employee.

Posted by: Reese | April 21, 2006 11:45 AM

I have used self-checkouts for years and recently had two horrible experiences. Wal-Mart and Home Depot - where the scales which I assume are under the bagging areas could not differentiate/had the wrong weight value for the item that I had placed in the bag. These two machines were so bad that on nearly every item I received a "unauthorized item in bagging area" or "please place item in bag" message, which required me to repeatedly wave to the self checkout "supervisor" that they should once again tell the system that I was not stealing from it. I have not had previous problems with self checkouts but these two five minute checkout experiences really tried my patience. If stores are going to allow customers to ring up their own goods, a simple scale system is not going to stop the people who want to steal and is a great inconvenience to those people who are just looking for faster service.

Posted by: CEJ | April 21, 2006 11:58 AM

I refuse to shop at a supermarket that downsizes employees by having bar codes, and that buys produce that is harvested by machines. I say go back to the good old days of punching in individual prices at the register and counting inventory manually, and to working farms with an ox and a plow. (Granted 80% of the population will have to go back to the farm, but I'm sure all of us reading this would be happy plowing the fields instead of reading the Web at work.)

However, maybe the stores can make it up to me by paying people to walk around in a circle now that they don't need to scan my items and accept payment anymore.

Posted by: mg | April 21, 2006 11:58 AM

I am amazed at the number of people who like the self check-outs. Every time I use one I have a problem with it, whether that was in Ohio or Virginia or D.C. So I stopped using them. I, too, got tired of the messages about whether an item was in the bag or not.

What's this about a conversation with the cashier?! I don't have time for a chat. I am making sure prices ring up correctly, swiping my card, and possibly putting some items into my own bag/backpack to avoid more plastic bags. There is no time for me to chit chat with anyone.

I am happy with those of you who like the self check-out because it will keep you out of the regular cashier lines. And yes, the Giant in Columbia Heights is wonderful!

Posted by: LCL | April 21, 2006 12:01 PM

Two comments....

First, I have NEVER successfully self-checked out of a Home Depot. NEVER. Giant works well almost every time.

Second, today I went into a Subway in Tysons as was met with a self check-IN. There was a kiosk where you had to select what you wanted, order, and pay. I knew what I wanted when I came in, but I was met first with a menu of choices (sandwich, meal, other stuff). I looked at it, said to an idle counterperson "this is too much work" and walked out. If this is the future of Subway, good luck to them.

Posted by: Meg | April 21, 2006 12:08 PM

I've never had a serious problem with the ones at Giant (except that one time I couldn't find the produce listing for starfruit - who knew it's actually called carambola?), but the ones at Home Depot are horrible. No matter how small or simple a transaction, I have never managed to use one there without holding up the entire line while I waited for someone to help. Of course, I have to wait a while, because they've got to go from line to line fixing the problems. I think HD really needs to re-evaluate their tech vendor for that.

Posted by: Becky | April 21, 2006 12:16 PM

Here's my confession: I use the self-checkout lane at a nearby Wal-Mart. Not for convenience, mind you, but because the cold and soulless machine actually provides better customer service than the store's own staff. It's sad, really.

Posted by: jimmyjimmy | April 21, 2006 12:18 PM

I'm continually shocked at how my younger colleagues stumble when the situation can't be handled using email or some other technological "mediator."

As one of those who uses that technological mediator, it's not that I can't handle face-to-face situations it's that I'm expected to do so many different tasks that I just don't have time for a three hour meeting when a quick e-mail exchange not only solves the problem, but creates a written record so everyone is clear about what's going on.

Of course, that has nothing to do with self-checkout lanes, which I tend to like while remaining concerned about what it means about job depletion.

Posted by: tcr25 | April 21, 2006 12:32 PM

I resolve never to use self-checkout if I can avoid it. I have tried using them at Giant & Safeway & Home Depot and they always mess up my bill. Even more annoying, these stupid machines are constantly wailing, "Unexpected item in baggage area! Please remove item from bagging area!" as if aliens had just landed on my groceries. I quit going to Home Depot over these stupid self-checkout machines. I think they are anti-union anyway.

Posted by: mike | April 21, 2006 12:41 PM

I resolve never to use self-checkout if I can avoid it. I have tried using them at Giant & Safeway & Home Depot and they always mess up my bill. Even more annoying, these stupid machines are constantly wailing, "Unexpected item in baggage area! Please remove item from bagging area!" as if aliens had just landed on my groceries. I quit going to Home Depot over these stupid self-checkout machines. I think they are anti-union anyway.

Posted by: mike | April 21, 2006 12:42 PM

To all those whiners complaining about how young people today have no interpersonal skills to speak of: maybe you should have just raised your kids better and shaped your communities better when you'd had the chance. Accept responsibility for creating a world you don't like instead of shifting all the blame onto your children and grandkids. It's really not that difficult.

Personally, I love the self-checkout machines. I bag quicker, don't have to wait for a cashier to finish his/her personal drama, don't ever have to explain, "No, please don't put the raw meats in with the apples, and could you not put the eggs at the bottom of the bag" (maybe you should have raised your kids to have a bit of common sense, too). Yeah, some of them have problems, and yeah, there are some very nice cashiers out there who have to deal with truly crappy customers for low pay and low benefits - but my overall experience with self-checkout machines is easier, faster, and more efficient than dealing with a real clerk.

To those saying that the next move by corporations will be self-stocking: nice misdirection, but no. Self-checkout is a convenience to enough customers to justify it; self-stocking is a convenience to no customers. Quit the Chicken Little routine, y'all, because nobody's buying it.

Also, if you don't like that the corporations are cutting costs by cutting clerks, does that mean you never shop online, either? There's a point where "social activism" just gets ridiculous.

Lastly, why would you actively want someone to keep a boring, no-direction job like that of a cashier, except for your own personal selfishness? It only barely pays the bills, affords little time for family or personal growth, and the pay will never reflect the actual rigors of dealing with jerk customers. If you don't like that cashiers in your area are losing jobs, get involved with local charity organizations that teach more complex skills to intelligent but undereducated individuals. And don't say there are none, because there are tons. The majority of the people in cashier jobs are way too smart for these jobs; instead of saying they ought to be given these jobs, which is really rather condescending, why not work within (and around) your community to help them get jobs that would truly utilize their skills and minds?

Lastly, trained chimps can learn to work these machines. When they don't work, that sucks, but when they do work (which is more often than not), most are straightforward and efficient. Quit staring at them as though they're alien life-forms, they're as easy to use as ATMs.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 12:45 PM

To the posters who say that they won't use the self-check lines because they think the company is saving money or may be putting a clerk out of a job --- You obviouly don't value your time like the rest of us who do use the self-check lines.
Also, did you ever think that freeing up a clerk may allow the store to use that person in another capacity that would also help you get through the store faster like another person behind the deli counter?

Posted by: Bob R. | April 21, 2006 12:48 PM

First, self-checkouts put pressure on me I don't want. I'm worried I might be holding up others in line when I have trouble (which I often do) with the process. If I'm checking out with a cashier, however, it's more likely the cashier who is perceived to be holding up things. You have to have an I-don't-care-about-the-other-guy personality to feel at all at ease in self-checkouts. Maybe I should try the iPod!

Second, I coupon a lot, and I can usually work with a cashier if there's trouble with any of my coupons. In self-checkout, you call someone over, and they tell you, patronizingly, what you already know, the coupon isn't working. The heck with it. Give me human cashiers any old day.

Posted by: Gene | April 21, 2006 12:48 PM

I like self check-out and I like the normal human to human cashier. Basically, whichever line is shorter and more convienient. The normal checkout lines are great for taking on the large loads. The self checkout lines are great for the quick grab and go.

Since I'm becoming more and more concious about my impacts on the environment, I can control my bag usage in self checkout. I really don't care about seperating items except that I wouldn't put heavy items on top of light easily damaged items. I have this game were I try to limit the bags I use to 2 max and it almost always works. In the normal line I usually come out with more bags than I really need and I usually stand there unbagging what the checker did anyway.

I am a thirty something and even though I have a cell phone, I think that people in general spend way to much time on their phones and not enough time on what is around themselves. One way to look at it though is that I have a better chance to notice opportunities than those people so it works out for me. Go ahead, put your attention towards cell phones, ipods, On Stars and whatever new and improved distractions there are out there. More time and opportunities for me to take advantage of. Hey maybe TV isn't such a bad thing after all. It keeps more people out of the way from what I want to do and find. Which is kind of a benefit in this world that is becoming so overcrowded anyway. Plus, those of us who do not watch TV or hang on our cell phones and I-pods, blackeberries etc can enjoy the rest of the world with fewer people to bother us. It also makes it easier to get away with pleasurable acts of social desobedience because everyone is so self absorbed in their digital world. Like public sex or Marijuanna smoking. Now that is a definate plus in my book. Maybe we should adopt a new social class, the out-of-touch with their surroundings class. A large and growing class for sure.

Posted by: Jon Adam, Boulder | April 21, 2006 12:48 PM

I hate the self-checkout at Giant, and like the self-checkout at the Glebe Rd Harris Teeter. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT USE THE SELF-CHECKOUT AT IKEA!

Posted by: shopper | April 21, 2006 12:51 PM

mg - "I refuse to shop at a supermarket that downsizes employees by having bar codes, and that buys produce that is harvested by machines. I say go back to the good old days of punching in individual prices at the register and counting inventory manually, and to working farms with an ox and a plow."

Do you want dairy farms to milk each cow by hand too?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 12:54 PM

First, even though I'm a 50-year-old guy, I also love all things digital. I instant message my friends, I listen to an MP3 player (only because my iPod broke), and I have XM Radio in my car, office, and home. I also work on a computer eight hours a day. So don't give me this generational business.

I prefer self-checkout too, but the Safeway where I shop doesn't offer it. However, I drive several miles out of my way to go to this Safeway, passing a large Giant that does have it, because Safeway almost always has lower prices on identical items than Giant does. And all of the Safeway employees are polite and helpful, including the people stocking the shelves who will stop what they're doing to ask if they can help you find something. When was the last time that happened to you in a Giant?

So the argument that self-checkout helps Giant keep prices down is false, in my experience.

Posted by: Scott | April 21, 2006 12:57 PM

I'm torn on the whole self-checkout thing. I admit, the idea of paying the same for less rankles me, but it is handy and I can move through the line more quickly. Also, I would hypothesize that people around my age and younger (early 30s) are programmed to accept less for more. As I'm sure was pointed out, we never really did the bank teller thing, not even in the drive-thru, because of ATMs, and examples like that can be applied across an entire spectrum of goods and service providers. And we "agree" to accept fees when we use one that is not of our bank, getting less for more, so to speak.

Here's another question: if Giant or anyone else 'passed on the savings,' or at least said that they did (think shopper's and bag your own) -- would there be a tidal wave of shoppers to Giants? I'm interested to hear if people would go to a store and use self-checkouts for lower prices and if so, what is the price point (I know, hard to estimate)?

Posted by: Bob | April 21, 2006 12:59 PM

I love self checkout. I got used to having them in Atlanta and when I moved to the Baltimore/DC area 5 years ago was disappointed that the stores didn't have them. Given the incredible inefficiency and slowness of clerks up here, it was wonderful when self checkout started appearing. I don't need a discount - the 20-30 minutes saved per shopping trip make it well worth it to me.

Posted by: kephart | April 21, 2006 1:01 PM

I never use self-checkout. It's too cumbersome and takes too long. Plus, why should I do the store's work for them. They're getting my money, the least they can do is ring it up and bag it for me.

Posted by: Doh | April 21, 2006 1:11 PM

I totally agree with Timothy Breen's email. Not only do I loathe self check out lines for reason he stated (I'm doing the work of a cashier for no additional savings); but also, think of cashiers who lost their jobs to these machines.

Since when should I purchase, pay and bag my own groceries, home goods etc. If Giant, Safeway or Shoppers want me to use those lines I'd kindly appreciate an additional 10% savings issued at checkout!

Posted by: Karen | April 21, 2006 1:11 PM

I totally agree with Timothy Breen's email. Not only do I loathe self check out lines for reason he stated (I'm doing the work of a cashier for no additional savings); but also, think of cashiers who lost their jobs to these machines.

Since when should I purchase, pay and bag my own groceries, home goods etc. If Giant, Safeway or Shoppers want me to use those lines I'd kindly appreciate an additional 10% savings issued at checkout!

Posted by: Karen | April 21, 2006 1:12 PM

To blank who responded to me at 12:54 regarding my 11:58 post:

Yes. I want dairy farms to milk each cow by hand. I want lemonade to be squeezed by hand. Stores should only sell fish that's caught with a rod and a reel. Get rid of E-Z Pass.

Please help me with some more ideas in case the big bad evil stores sneak this self checkout scam on us, and we have to find work for the poor cashiers.

Posted by: mg | April 21, 2006 1:21 PM

I get lots of free stuff when checking meself out. Ha!

Posted by: Sneeky | April 21, 2006 1:21 PM

I'm charmed by the way my supermarket has gradually reduced the number of cashiers as it increases the number of self-checkout lines.

What I find especially charming is how easy it is to not pay for a certain percentage of my groceries. The process is faster and significantly less expensive.

Awesome!

Posted by: Cody | April 21, 2006 1:24 PM

I can't deal with most automation, hate pumping my own gas, won't use ATM's but I love self checkout at the grocery! Now that most of the tech glitches have been fixed in the midwest chain where I mostly shop -- the shopper card works, the terminal doesn't jam up -- I can finally pack my own groceries! For finicky shoppers who want all the cold foods bagged together, don't want the baking potatos and fresh fruit dumped onto the bakery items, or one bag filled up with 20 cans, so it breaks when lifted, self checkout is wonderful. No surly teenaged baggers, who are too busy shouting about prom night to the bagger at the next lane, no nosy cashiers making comments like "eeeuw, spinach" or asking "what is this" because they don't recognize broccoli. Sometimes you get much better service, because there's one store employee for a 4-terminal bank of terminals, and if you're the only customer, the employee is like your personal assistant. So at least for me, this is one modern advance I can thrive on.

Posted by: ohio | April 21, 2006 1:27 PM

I, too, prefer the self checkouts and will typically use them as my first choice. One reason: the cashiers seem to think that produce should bounce, with predictable results. When I ask them to be gentle w/my produce they act as if I have insulted them and their entire family. At the self-checkout I have more control, can make sure things are bagged well & I don't arrive home w/10 plastic bags, each one holding 1 or 2 items.
The only place I refuse to use them is at Wal-Mart. At the local Wal-Mart the self checkouts never seem to work right and the staffer who's supposed to help is usually clueless (and sometimes barely speaks English). On several occasions we have simply abandoned out items and left.

Posted by: E. Goldman | April 21, 2006 1:28 PM

Dear Giant:

I hate those self check-out stations. If you want to increase customer convenience, I reccomend returning to the quality service model that built your company. Employees with better pay and benefits will be better motivated to work efficiently, which will get those check-out lines moving.

I used to shop at Giant religiously. But since your service fell off, I started checking out other stores for my shopping. When you installed those ridiculous self check-out stations I stopped shopping there altogether. I'm a Safeway man now. Safeway doesn't have those machines. FYI consumers.

Posted by: customer x | April 21, 2006 1:34 PM

The cashier at Super Fresh farted in my bag before putting my groceries in it. I'll never go there again.

Posted by: Grossed out | April 21, 2006 1:41 PM

Not only does my nearest Safeway NOT have self-serve checkouts (which I happen to like), but they also have better service than Giant AND lower prices. I don't know that raising salaries at Giant, which would result in even higher prices there, would improve service.

Posted by: Scott | April 21, 2006 1:43 PM

I wouldn't set foot in safeway if I was dying of starvation. Don't enjoy coming home and finding roaches in my cereal, thank you! (true story)

Posted by: ballsdeep | April 21, 2006 1:49 PM

To everyone commenting about how rude the younger generation is, three quick points:

- I guarantee your elders were lamenting how rude your generation was.
- I agree, manners are learned at home
- I have had just as many bad experiences with rude older people as younger people. And I was taught and do use, please, thank you, you're welcome, and often yes, ma'am and sir. Most older people have commented on how polite I am.
- More to the point, self serve machines are kind of cool. I've spent several minutes explaining how to use them. But please, you aren't doing anyone any good if you have 75 items. That's just RUDE.

Posted by: Just Me | April 21, 2006 1:57 PM

I can get on a line of about 50 people at Whole Foods in Manhattan, but since they have about 25 staffed checkout stations, and a competent, live person managing the line and directing customers to the next open cashier, that wait will be far, far shorter than getting on a line with 10 people waiting for one of the four "express" self-checkout machines at Pathmark. The machines don't work well, produce items are missing from the menus, if you don't plop your items into the bags next to scanner, it asks you to rescan them, the touch screens are insensitive, technical help is often required, and all of the terminals need to frequently be rebooted. Such convenience! Maybe in suburban stores that rarely have long lines the self-checkout can work. But if you've got to move a lot of people in and out, you need employees to keep things moving quickly.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 1:59 PM

I've used and really like the self-checkout at the Kentlands Whole Foods. I've never had a good experience with the self-checkout at Home Depot (and I tried 4 times thinking it couldn't possibly be as bad as the last time).

Half of what I buy doesn't come up when scanned and the light things don't register when you move them to the bag. And getting the "helpful" salesperson's attention is almost impossible. As a result I not only don't use the self-checkout, I go to Lowe's.

Posted by: sandushinka | April 21, 2006 2:00 PM

Oi, who's complaing about self checkout? It's fantastic. It means always having multiple lines open, even when it's late at night. It means more people can checkout in the same amount of time with fewer cashiers. And even if giant is pocketing an extra few dollars an hour, they're saving you more in time not spent in line.

Posted by: Paul | April 21, 2006 2:01 PM

Soylent Green is people.

Posted by: Charles | April 21, 2006 2:05 PM

Isn't self-checkout kinda like this blog? I mean, who's editing and typesetting my 'letter to the editor'? :-)

Posted by: Mark S. | April 21, 2006 2:24 PM

I HATE self-checkouts. I hate that they take away jobs. I hate that they have really annoying voices that can be heard in the normal lanes closest to them. And I hate that if you try to use them, they don't even work right. They mis-scan items and double-scan items and when you try to correct the mistake, it's a pain.

Checkouts would be a lot faster if Giant would hire more people. They often have the lanes stacked 3-4 carts deep with plenty of lanes where no one is working. Hire more people instead of investing in technology that nobody wants and nobody needs.

And I say this as a guy who works in IT.

Posted by: cass | April 21, 2006 2:24 PM

To Charles.

"Soylent Green is people."

Excellent!

Posted by: Jon Adam | April 21, 2006 2:26 PM

I've been a user of self-checkouts since they first appeared, and I have been griped by not getting some incentive for not taxing the store's human resources. Still, my main gripe is with the morons with no *&$%#&@ business using the lanes. Hint: if changing a setting on your PC makes you anxious -- or you haven't dragged your non-aposeable thuumbs into the 21st Century -- stay in the staffed checkout lines. Scanning barcodes and swiping a payment card aren't rocket science, but the incopmpetence which many express in performing theses acts indicates some higher level of intelligence testing required.

Oh...and another gripe for ALL lanes... why are stores still honoring checks and holding up lines for them? Checks cost more to process, and rarely does a writer have everything but the amount ready when the total appears.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | April 21, 2006 2:26 PM

I absolutley HATE these machines. Has anyone tried to purchase a sheet of dry wall at one of the self checkout lanes (because that's all there is) at HomeDepot? Oh...and then the Machine tells you to put the product in the bag. Must be a big bag for a sheet of Dry Wall around here somewhere. And it's not any easier to purchase a television at WalMart's self checkout lines either. Atleast the could provide us with a laser barcode gun to scan large objects. Ridiculous.

And I have yet to see a paycheck from Giant for performing cashier services. Why am I working for nothing? Why are we taking jobs away from those who don't have the education or skills to be designing the technology required for these self checkout lines? And there is way too much room for human error. I'm surprised no one has figured out yet to ring up the expensive apples as cheap Red Delicious.

More than this I am concerned with the social impact. With the addition of the SmartPass to pay road tolls, the lack of service station attendants because gas stations no longer accept cash, the self checkout lines, e-mail, instant messager, and my all time favorite....DVD rental machines!!...No one will have human contact with anyone else. This is sick Big Brother!!

Posted by: Duke | April 21, 2006 2:28 PM

I'm not fond of self-checkouts, although I can understand them for small amounts of items. The ones at Home Depot constantly complain about "unauthorized item in bag." Then you take it out and it tells you to place the item in the bag. Then it is an unauthorized item again. Bleh.

I buy most of my groceries at Shoppers Food Warehouse early on Sunday morning. At that hour, the self-checkouts are being used by people with basketfulls of groceries, mostly produce that has to be looked up. A good clerk (and I'm regular enough to have an idea of who does a good job) can easily beat the machine.

Posted by: wma | April 21, 2006 2:33 PM

The reason there are lines for staffed checkouts is that the stores provide so few of them these day. If I face a long line for one, sole, staffed checkout, I leave and go somewhere else.

I also rarely use a self checkout because I'm not going to do for free a job a staff person would be payed for.

I also hate the way self-checkouts announce everything. Human staffed checkouts don't do that. Why would I want a machine -or human - to announce every single price or action?

Posted by: dwl | April 21, 2006 2:39 PM

Mr. Breen is a tad off the mark if he's looking for a 2% to 5% discount for using self-checkout. Ahold corporation (the corporation that owns Giant, and several other chains) had an operating profit of only 0.6% last year. A 2% discount would leave them with an operating loss of 1.4%. Grocery stores operate on terribly slim margins, and the self checkout system is their solution to easing overcrowded checkouts, without increasing labour costs. As much as I prefer a staffed checkout, I suspect we'll see more of this.

Posted by: Wayne A. Bottlick | April 21, 2006 2:54 PM

Postnote to my 01:21 comments: How about getting rid of ATMs and bringing back more teller jobs? Get rid of the automated subway fare system. Hire people to collect tokens at each entry. Then hire more people to sell you the tokens. Don't forget to hire people who make sure these others don't steal money from the subway system. By the time we implement all my recommendations, there will be 150% employment. That's like negative 50% unemployment. That's way better than the current 5% unemployment (give or take). Won't we all be so much better off?

Yes. I'm being sarcastic. This reminds me of trying to purchase a carton of cigarettes in Egypt (in order to hand out as tips). I enter an empty duty free store - empty of customers, but filled with 10 employees in a small room. Everybody has a job here. The first guy tells me they don't have what I want in stock, then agrees that they do when I point it out to him. The second checks my passport. The third tells me which guy to go to next. The fourth guy tells me I need to go to the fifth guy to write an order form, which I then take to the sixth guy who takes my money. The seventh guy writes something in my passport, and the eight guy finally gives me the carton of cigarettes. At least everybody has a job.

I could imagine all the whiners on this blog complaining if any of these "jobs" were eliminated. I guarantee you that despite these Egyptian "progressive" employment practices, the American cashier who gets laid off because of the self-checkout is better off than 99% of Egyptians who are "employed".

Posted by: mg | April 21, 2006 2:56 PM

These self-checkouts were engineered by Satan himself to frustrate even the best person into cursing and tantrums. I'm a computer systems engineer with 25 years experience. I know my way around computer and some very complex interfaces, but I have literally walked out of stores in frustration (leaving behind literally $100's in purchases) rather than continue to wrestle with this devices.

This morning in Giant Food in Lanham, there were NO human staffed checkouts available, but I really needed the milk, so I waited for Giant's staff to assist both user of the two open "self" checkouts. I think I made it out of the store without seriously sinning.

Just wait until Sports Authority installs these contraptions and then thwart my attempts to buy a baseball bat. "Item removed from bagging area. Please return your -- Atheletic Supporter, Size Small -- to the bagging area."

It won't be good for anybody.

Posted by: John Otranto | April 21, 2006 2:57 PM

My experience with self-checkout has been terrible. Either they don't read the bar codes correctly or they are not operating at all. I think they are a way for the stores to lay off staff and make more profits, not a help for most customers. Some of us still like to deal with people, and when a store makes the effort to hire, train, and supervise good, friendly staff for their check-out lanes, they make shopping a much better experience. Personally, I go to Lowe's now that Home Depot switched to robotic check-outs. And I often see the self-check lanes go empty at Giant while people stand in line to be served by a human. Society is enriched by personal interactions, not machines.

Posted by: CCR | April 21, 2006 3:03 PM

As much as I might agree with the anti-self-service checkout crowd, I bet few of them have had to endure a line at the Brookland Giant. The store is staffed as if there is a required minimum 10-minute wait at the checkout line. When lines stretch halfway to the back of the store, which is not an uncommon occurence, they are unlikely to open more than six of their 12 checkout lanes. But the no-self-service-for-me crowd can take solace in this: the Brookland Giant won't be upgraded for self-serve checkouts like their suburban counterparts because, even though it is one of the chain's never and most profitable stores, they say it is too small to accommodate self-serve lanes. In building a store in the District out of a sense of social obligation and public relations, they obviously didn't count on people actually BUYING GROCERIES there!

Posted by: DC Proud | April 21, 2006 3:06 PM

I use the self-checkout line sometimes. I often run into some problems that require a clerk's help. it makes me appreciate what they do more.

I imagine that the stores think of it as a way to save money by cutting staff.I guess for the customer that might lead to lower costs overall. But at the beginning there are probbly substantial capital costs.

Posted by: Jeff | April 21, 2006 3:10 PM

Well, Caroline, you have hit a hot topic here, haven't you? A lot of emotion in the readers' comments.

I would like to suggest that the real concern here is not the technology (when it works, which it doesn't always) or the lack of social interaction (almost nonexistant anyway; I see few clerks who have the time or inclination to chat up customers at the checkout).

The problem is that the technology is being used by many stores like Home Depot and Giant to limit customer choices. At Home Depot a week ago NONE of the checkouts had employees. When hunted down the store manager and asked what was going on -- no clerks on the registers at 2 p.m. on a Sunday?! -- he said it was "Company policy" to move the few clerks they had to the garden center and put one poor clerk in charge of the 4 indoor self-serve checkouts. There was hardly any clerks in the aisles and no clerks at the contractor's desk. "Customer service is our number-one priority?" Hardly!

I made the store manager check out my purchase of drywall and other items through a register himself. Then I felt like I was genuinely being served.

After 8 p.m. at my local Giant, I usually see ONE living, breathing clerk assigned to one checkout line, and customers are left to fend for themselves at all the other checkouts which have been converted to, if you pardon the expression, self-service.

It's just as you stated in an earlier column, Caroline: We have a new generation that has grown up accustomed to poor or no service. They don't know to demand anything better, but if customers don't demand that stores provide choices and adequate service, things will get worse -- fast.

Banks reduced personal service with the proliferation of ATMs under the guise of improving customer service and convenience. Customer convenience was a by-product of efforts to increase profits by reducing jobs and making customers do the work once provided as a service. Grocery stores are reducing services in the same way, but they are not passing the savings onto their customers. It's impossible today to call a business and talk immediately with a human being; automated phone answering, with its multiple levels of Hell, are ubiquitous and while they save companies money they rob customers' time, patience, and sanity.

Repeat after me: It isn't customer service until someone picks up the phone, greets you sincerely, and handles your business personnally and promptly. Service is only service when it's served with a smile. Self-service is not customer service.

Posted by: George | April 21, 2006 3:16 PM

Every time I use one of the self-checkout lines at Giant or Harris Teeter someone has to assist me because the scanner cannot read the bar code or a coupon gets stuck. They are a royal pain. At Home Depot they are worse. If you happen to have a light weight item and you place it in the bag it continues to request that action. Hate 'em

Posted by: Joanie | April 21, 2006 3:19 PM

Unfortunately, I'm not surprised to read all the comments from people who apparently were born knowing how to use a self-checkout machine. If they weren't born knowing how to use it, then when did *they* learn? They have no patience (let alone respect) for a person encountering the machine for the first time. God forbid that someone would actually have to take a little time to figure it out. Isn't it sad that so many people have the attitude of "get out of my way; if you don't know how to use the machine, you have no right to be in this line!" Such arrogance!

Posted by: Jaded? | April 21, 2006 3:29 PM

Just like banks passed on all their savings when switching to ATM?
Riiiiight.

Posted by: A. Non | April 21, 2006 3:33 PM

I am often asked, while waiting in line at Giant or Harris Teeter, if I would like "to be shown how to use the self-checkout." My response is always the same - "Do I get a discount?" I know how to use the self-checkout. But I only do so when the time saved is greater than the cost built into the products for paying checkout clerks salaries, maintenance for checkout computers, etc. Unless I am getting a discount, I am not going to pay for the product AND do the work for the company. That's like paying them to work for them.

Posted by: Cynic | April 21, 2006 3:47 PM

I love them almost all the time. I can get through quickly and I don't feel like my shopping experience is diminished when I don't hear a real person say "bonus card?" and read me the total. My only complaint is similar to the home depot problem, when the machine doesn't sense the item(either in the bagging area or passing down the conveyor) you're stuck.

Posted by: self checkout lover | April 21, 2006 3:48 PM

"-- Atheletic Supporter, Size Small"
John Otranto, thank you! I was having a terrible day, but your comment made me laugh out loud. I appreciate the mood lift!

Posted by: jackst | April 21, 2006 3:51 PM

I'm a young person and I love using the self check out. It allows me control. Usually, you have to wait in line behind some slow old person who counts their pennies or some even slower cashier who needs a price check on everything. I've never been behind a slow poke using the self check out. My time is very valuable and not worth the wait in line just to interact with a human being. Additionally, I don't believe the machine saves Giant money. By having the machine, Giants employees must now have training to understand how to work it (i.e showing customers) and is a large initial outlay of funds for the machine. I don't shop at SFW because I don't like the cashiers but once the shoppers in College Park added the Machines I returned to shopping their. It saves companies many customers.

Posted by: I love self checkout | April 21, 2006 4:05 PM

Comparisons between self-checkout stations, ATMs, and EZ-Pass toll lanes are not exactly equivalent. ATMs add value by giving you the convenience of being able to do most banking transactions 24/7. Before ATMs were introduced, anybody who lived in a state that didn't allow branch banking can remember dashing downtown to the bank on Saturday morning at 11:45 AM, trying to cash a check to have money for the weekend before the drive-in tellers closed at noon. And forget cashing a check on Sundays or holidays.

The same goes for EZ-Pass. You can sail right through the toll lanes watching the people backed up several cars deep waiting for Grandma to dig a nickel out from under the seat cushions. Do you think the tollbooth attendant is having a friendly conversation with her? Not in my experience! Maybe I don't get a discount, but I have the added value of saving at least a little bit of time.

Posted by: Will | April 21, 2006 4:12 PM

There's really no need to wait behind old people while they count their pennies. Just lift them up (they usually don't weigh much) and put them in a different line. And you might as well throw their pennies on the floor while you're at it. They won't mind spending time to pick them up; after all, their time isn't nearly as valuable to them as yours is to you.

I sure hope the people sending in some of these idiotic, self-important comments remember them when they reach their 60s or 70s!

Posted by: Jaded? | April 21, 2006 4:14 PM

Don't think I haven't felt like doing that sometimes. And I'm already 50--well on my way to joining that hopelessly inept demographic. On the other hand, my 70-year-old father had a cell phone before I did and used it constantly. So we can't just assume that anybody over 60 is a technological moron.

Posted by: Scott | April 21, 2006 4:21 PM

I'm an old fogy (50) but I love self checkout. What I don't love are the folks behind me who can't spare me the 30 seconds it takes me to bag my purchases before they start scanning theirs and sending them down the belt. Perhaps stores could render self-checkout unavailable until the bagging area is cleared.

Posted by: Bill | April 21, 2006 4:34 PM

I agree with Jaded. It's all about ME, ME, ME, for a lot of people nowadays. The 'Microwave Generation.' The 'my time is more important than yours generation.' Most of these people whining about being in a hurry are in hurry to get where? Nowhere.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2006 4:37 PM

I posted a bit earlier, being against self checkout. But for all the people in a hurry,

"What the hell is your rush?"

There is nothing you need to be rushing to do if you have already taken the time to stop at the store. So you spend a whole five minutes instead of trying to run in and out under a minute. Slow down and take a breath. Believe me, the sun will still come up in the morning and go down at night, regardless. Get a grip.

Posted by: Richard | April 21, 2006 4:49 PM

Richard, can I buy these grips you speak of at the local Giant? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Posted by: papi | April 21, 2006 4:57 PM

Plenty has been said about the systems, and much of it (on both sides) is spot-on. Personally, I'd rather deal with a well-designed machine than an ill-tempered human any day, but that's beside my point.

I would just like to recognize Spokesman Hultquist for making the Idiotic Pronouncement of the Week when he said that "Today's consumers want to have control of the process and that's what self-checkout does."

What kind of consultant-babble is that, anyway? First off, who are "today's consumers"? I didn't know we all shared the same likes and dislikes. Second, what does "want to have control of the process" mean? You take your stuff up to the register, you pay, you leave. It's just shopping, not some kind of "relationship" with a "power dynamic," OK, Doctor Phil?

One reason prices are so darn high is because part of what you fork over at the store goes to pay vapid people to do pointless jobs that largely revolve around saying meaningless things such as "Today's consumers want to have control of the process and that's what self-checkout does."

Posted by: Shawn | April 21, 2006 5:36 PM

Hear, hear, Shawn!!!!!

Posted by: A hater of corporate-speak | April 21, 2006 6:03 PM

oh dear - lots and lots of anger about this issue! To those that value human interaction, I use the self check-out at my Krogers every time I shop there. There has never been a problem in using it - As to human interaction, I've been shopping at the same store for 5 years. I know the manager on duty, the clerks that wait on me at both the self-serve check out and the customer service station. I say hello to them and pass the day, if I have the time.

What bugs me - and it sounds like this has not been implemented in the D.C. area is that our self serve check-outs are express check-outs - for 15 items or less. It bugs the crap out of me when someone does their weeks worth of grocery shopping and does not know how to use the system, and I have to wait 20 minutes for them to get through the line. Pay attention to the signs and directioins folks.

Posted by: john in houston | April 21, 2006 6:18 PM

I wonder if there were people before Edison who invented electricity and the light bulb but had sudden pangs of guilt about all the candle makers who'd lose their jobs, and so we (the human race) had to wait an extra 50 years for the real Thomas Edison who obviously had no such guilt.

By the way, the great thing about capitalism, is that it gives you choices. If you like the human interaction, by all means wait in line for the human checkout. If you want to use the self checkout line, go ahead. Just don't tell me I have to feel guilty that someone may lose his job. I can figure out a way for ten times the number of people to provide every service any one of us uses on any given day. That doesn't mean it would be good of for society.

Posted by: mg | April 21, 2006 6:38 PM

You can't "guilt" me into using the staffed checkout lines instead of the self-serve lines with a lot of talk about how it's my fault that overpaid union grocery workers ($40k annual salary for some checkers at Giant, according to a story in the Post last year) might lose their jobs if I choose to do their mindless, repetitive tasks for myself. I mean come on, $40k a year to run milk cartons over a scanner and holler out "Price Check!" every few minutes? That's about the same as the starting salary for a Fairfax County Public Schools teacher with five years of experience. Can we honestly equate the value of those two positions?

Posted by: Will | April 21, 2006 7:11 PM

I use the self check outs, I just wish they would all work the same way. At Harris-Teeter I have to stop and review before I checkout 1) purse on the floor (or it confuses the scanner/weight checking function) 2) paper bags also trick the scanner so open the bags open on the floor, get clerk attention, scan first item, get error beep, ask clerk to clear error and proceed. Fun.

Posted by: shopper | April 21, 2006 7:13 PM

I have no philosophical problem with self-checkout -- I think it can be faster if you just have a couple of items and are swiping a credit card. But the biggest complaint I have, and the reason why 9 times out of 10 I don't use it, is that I can't scan a bottle of wine without the entire system coming to a complete halt until a bored out of their skull, TTMF (love that, previous poster!) employee wanders over to eyeball me -- an OBVIOUSLY over-21 adult. So about 50% of the time, I'm left standing there, holding up all those people behind me whose time is SO VERY VALUABLE, because the machine is programmed to presume that anyone buying wine is underage. This is just stupid, and completely eliminates any timesaving that might be going on. And don't even get me started on that loud announcing of every item I buy...

Posted by: Disgusted | April 21, 2006 8:04 PM

I didn't read all 100+ comments, so this may be repetitive, but I have 2 major issues with self-checkout. 1) you can't change your mind and hit "cancel" or equivalent if you decide after the fact that you don't want something because it cost more than you expected or whatever. you have to wait for the cashier to enter a code. Also if something has 2 barcodes for some reason and you scan the wrong one you can't just hit cancel. This happens with imported foods occasionally. 2)Home Depot--Home Depot sells big, bulky things which do not lend themselves to scanning. You really need the scanner gun for that. There should never be more self-checkout lanes than traditional lanes at Home Depot. 1 or 2 if you are just buying a hammer or something, but if you are buying literally the kitchen sink obviously self-checkout won't work. I was really surprised when I first saw it at home Depot. 3/4 of the stuff there doesn't even fit on the belt! But otherwise I like it if they work correctly, although the machines are a little too sensitive. If you accidentally set something on the scale that you already own, like your umbrella, it will say "please remove unrecognized item". If you start putting stuff in your cart before it is finished it will say "please return item." It can't handle human error.

Posted by: Ellen | April 21, 2006 8:48 PM

Giant has cut back on the number of staffed checkouts in our area - Kingstowne, VA - and I have been told it is because they want us to use the self check-outs. Noone I know has requested them. I will pay more & go to Safeway.

Posted by: Fran | April 21, 2006 9:44 PM

I like self-checkout. To me it is a convenience, rather than an opportunity for a vendor to make an additional profit at my expense.

There are, of course, people who are not familiar with self-checkout, and this can cause a bit of line backup. Overall, however, I find that the self-checkout line is the way to go in supermarkets and places such as WalMart unless I have some exceptionally unusual purchases that would be difficult for a self-checkout scanner to sort thru.

Digby

Posted by: Digby Willard | April 21, 2006 9:51 PM

An ATM transaction does not involve bagging groceries which is something that I do not want to do for myself. I will always prefer a live person over self-checkout in the grocery store.

My biggest complaint is that stores that have self-checkout generally reduce the number of human checkers. If there are not enough human checkers to keep those lines short, then the store is not really offering good service to all customers, only to those who prefer self-checkout.

Maybe it is a generational issue. I am almost 50 and find that, in general, I have more patience for waiting on line than most of the younger people I know. I have even let people go ahead of me if they only have a few items and I have a full cart. I actually enjoy reading the tabloid headlines - a little light amusement.

I am not against progress and/or technology, but it seems that the DC area is full of people who can't see any value in non-corporate work. Maybe being a cashier isn't your idea of a good job, but it can be great for students, parents, and others who want more flexible hours than the corporate world offers.

I live in Howard County MD and shop at Safeway and Giant at several locations. The workers are not rude and lazy the way a lot of workers have been described in this blog. Maybe the frenzied pace of the customers contributes to the employees outlooks.

Posted by: bj | April 21, 2006 10:03 PM

Great to see 123 comments! I read every one. My main issue withe Giant remains micro-economic, aka prices. Giant pays its check out folks too much money given then requisite skills and the service that the paying customer ultimately receives. That's a reason why their prices are too high and I by many grocery items at TARGET whenever I can. Now its clear, despite the "corporate- speak" from the GIANT PR sui,that the answer to the question "Why does Giant want us to self-check? is money aka profits. Which is fine, their a business, this is America. My point remains, however. Namely, that if the consumer also is expected to be the bagger and the checker, then give me a discount and I'll be first in the self-checkout line! Until then, if I'm gonna pay Giant prices, give me some decent service!

Posted by: Timothy M. Breen | April 21, 2006 11:04 PM

I LOVE self-checkout! It is always faster. If it either adds to the profit or reduces the cost and therefore the price of items, then all the better. There are almost always lines at cashiers, because it is too expensive to have cashiers wait with empty lines until I arrive. But self-checkout is almost always waiting open for my arrival. (By the way, are there people who prefer going into the bank and waiting in line to cash a check, when the ATM does the same thing in 20% of the time?)

Posted by: jeff | April 21, 2006 11:29 PM

Mr. Breen,
If you don't want to pay people for service, and good service at that, then don't expect it.

People and their time are worth more than just what the market dictates for one thing and for another, I can't expect someone to be happy to do a job that is only a drop in a vat the size of a football field to pay their bills and requires them to deal with surly individuals to boot.

Posted by: Deborah | April 21, 2006 11:52 PM

I love them. I'm in a people intensive business and I love to be able to complete my checkout without having to make more inane conversation with someone that doesn't care about me and I don't care about them. Just as I loved when their introduced ATM's so you didn't have to be bothered with tellers. The machines always know who you are, don't question you if your hair isn't done or you're wearing a hat. I get enough interaction at work.

Posted by: Nancy | April 23, 2006 1:36 AM

I loathe self-check-out lines. Invariably my scanner is unable to weigh the bananas, or an oversized item won't go through, or the inventory system is incorrect, and I end up with a blinking "help needed" light as I wait and wait (with my two children) for someone to come help. I've abandoned a cart of grocery rather than wait. My solution to the grocery problem: home delivery. Someone else shops, someone else drives, someone else carries the bags, the home delivery person is polite (and not talkative), and the food shows up while the kids and I can play or do something fun or productive at home. It usually ends up costing about $2 per delivery (btw I have no financial interest in grocery home delivery services). Now THAT'S a service I'll pay for.

Posted by: HomeDelivery! | April 24, 2006 8:42 AM

Read this, Giant executives- I don't go to my local Giant anymore because they don't have enough real cashiers anymore. If you don't want to wait 30 minutes to check out, you have to use the "self-service"- and as a mom with 2 small, active children who like to run around and grab things, that's practically impossible for me. I've started going to Harris Teeter, which not only always has lots of cashiers, but the staff will usually even help me take the groceries to the car! Sorry Giant, I was a very loyal customer until you made it impossible for me to shop at your store.

Posted by: a mom | April 24, 2006 8:58 AM

To Rebecca who posted "...I was surprised to find that Giant's computers read the item name, item price (and savings, if any) aloud.," maybe Giant is trying to get ahead of the curve by equally providing this self-checkout service to EVERYONE -- including sight-impaired shoppers.

You DO know that some who are blind or partially so DO buy food and use this service? I didn't think so, hence your comment. Perhaps the other stores did not think out this service for all of their buying public, and it wouldn't surprise if this omission will become an issue in the future.

Also, turning on and off the sound might create issues with the next customer behind you, assuming that this person need the voice technology portion. Otherwise, the store will need to have a clerk on standby at each of these checkout stations to handle this task -- this alone would negate (defeat) the purpose and so-called savings of self-checkout. If a clerk has to be stationed full-time at the self-checkout (I mean at each self-checkout station), the clerk may as well do the personal checkout for me.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 24, 2006 9:06 AM

Personally, I like the self-check 'cause they're quicker.

I must admit they have their bugs--I do software systems and test for a living, and I've broken many. :) But basic common sense causes most of these problems to go away. If the coupon has ragged edges, of course it'll get caught in the slot. If the bag area is waiting for pressure when the item goes in the bag and you've bought a greeting card, you might just have to wiggle something around in the bag. It happens. Just think about what you're doing. And, for the record, I do think Home Depot needs a slight redesign on theirs--think it actually has values for the weights of the products embedded in the system.

As part of the 'younger generation' I take offense at a lot of the aspersions that have been cast our way. Not all of us are socially inept or inconsiderate to others.

Checking out at the grocery or BJs or even using ATMs is about efficiency--it's much quicker for me to handle my own stuff than it is to pass it off to someone else, etc. Anybody want to go back to going inside the gas station to pay for gas?

Plus, I very seldom will put the caustic chemicals (bleach, weed killer....) in with the produce. :)

Posted by: M in Annapolis | April 24, 2006 10:16 AM

Giant self-checkout is GREAT!!! (Although they should eliminate the talking part --it slows the process down). It's fast, convenient, and most-importantly, I can bag my own groceries so they get home in one piece in a paper bag without rolling all over the floor of the car or having my pears or bananas crushed by cans. (Where is the common sense of most baggers???) I can pack the frozen things separately from the hot items; cleaning products separately from food; (something most cashiers don't seem to get for whatever reason.)

Giant's system is easy to use and simple! (Could be faster.) (Home Depot has problems; Magruders is hard to use and tempermental -- too frustrating). I'm female and in the over 50 crowd; can't program my VCR. (You're supposed to program your cell phone?) But can ZIP my way through these lines and am out the door fast and happy.

Safeway should do the same -- they have horrendous lines (Falls Church) and I HATE it when the cashiers address me by name after looking at my VISA receipt. This tells every other person in line who I am and is offensive and an invasion to my privacy (and is a potential safety problem!).

I go to Giant to shop, not chat -- when I want to chat, I visit friends and neighbors.

Bring on more self-checkouts!


Posted by: Lydia | April 24, 2006 10:56 AM

Self checkout is great - but it would be relatively easy to switch barcodes and get a better price, so I think they are going to have to do something about their security system.
Months ago I bought some luggage at a Walmart, the tag was marked $50 less than identical pieces. I tried to get a clerk to verify the price before lugging it around, but there was nobody available. The machine did not even question the discount.

Posted by: not really | April 24, 2006 11:42 AM

Our Martins grocery has complete self service shopping, if you care to use it. There are hand-held scanners used to provide a running total of your purchases, which , in the case of veggies, you must rself-weigh, use a special self-check-out and self-bag the order.

If Martins expects me to do all the work of weighing, totaling and bagging, what comes next? Will I eventually have to self-stock the shelves and self-cut and self-wrap the meat and seafood?

I'd use it if I got a discount for my work, but until then I'll do it the traditional way. Any way, I like the face-to-face contact with cashiers I've come to know.

Posted by: Jim - Winchester | April 24, 2006 12:59 PM

I want to thank everyone for posting their comments, I have read every single one.

Please stop with the 'generation' comments. I am 23, part of the microwave generation (?), and I do not prefer the self-checkouts. I like to be helped by a person, not a machine. Age and experience are not the topics at hand. We're talking about the machines, not the ages of the people who use them.

What really should be discussed here is the need to satisfy both populations. Customers need to be able to chose which method of check-out they would like. Stores should offer the self-checkouts for those who want to use them but still should offer a reasonable number of staffed checkouts for those who do not want to use the self-checkouts. And HomeDepot should consider hiring a few more cashiers because of the product they sell. Self Checkout just isn't reasonable for sheets of dry wall.

Obviously it is going to take some time for stores to 'work out the bugs' in self checkouts. Adjusting the volume, calibrating the scales, determining the appropriate number of self checkouts, etc will take some time.

and by the way, I do go into the bank to cash my check. I like the lollipops.

Posted by: Duke | April 24, 2006 1:05 PM

Look, whether you like self-checkout or not you better start learning how to use it. Its cheaper and more efficient for all retail stores in the long run.

As wages continue to rise the cost differential between a live person and the self-checkout machine will increase. Self-checkout don't incur social security taxes, health insurance premium that increases 20% every year, and machines don't ever vote to unionize. Wal-mart will probably be doing this soon in order to fight the legislation in the states against it. If they reduce baggers and checkers by 50%, they could probably avoid the anti-Walmart laws. I'm sure all the baggers and checkers will thank the union activists for their efforts at that time. And of course you can start forking out more money to pay for after school activities for those soon to be unemployed teenagers.

The move from human interface at the call centers to an electronic system foreshadows what will happen to the retail service sector labor. You can get a human voice, but only after 10 pushes of the button.

Posted by: PTT | April 24, 2006 1:35 PM

As a member of the younger generation, I personally prefer to use the self check out. I was skeptical at first, but I love them now for many of the reasons mentioned. I don't think I should have to tell baggers how to bag my items (that is their job, aren't they trained properly?) Its common sense (well, at least to me) that you don't put raw meat in with vegetables. The things that annoy me are people who don't have the first clue what they are doing and slow the self checkout lines down and those who can't figure out there is a scale beneath the bags and flop their basket on your bagging area.

Posted by: JK | April 24, 2006 2:06 PM

I never felt before that I was lucky to live in an expensive area where every little thing seems to cost more, but after reading these postings I can see the advantages. There's a lot of grocery competition around my area. The checkers at the Sangamore Safeway are super polite, at the Westbard Giant usually OK, and Whole Foods has the best help of all. At both Giant and Safeway they seem to be pretty quick to open up extra lines. I don't have any problem using either self checkout or cashiers. I usually wind up with live help because I only go once a week and shop for the family. Based on some of the previous postings, I don't think young adults have a premium on rudeness. I am concerned that so many posters are hot and bothered enough to be rude. This is a pretty minor issue. Do you yell at people who drink Sprite instead of fruit juice, or who voted Republican instead of Democratic? If we're all like this, you can watch the red state/blue state mentality in microcosm right here. BTW, thanks to many of the previous posters. I've been reading this during a break at work and cracking up. I especially liked the posting from the person who tried to use self-checkout for a sponge at Home Depot.

Posted by: bethesda | April 24, 2006 4:02 PM

I don't use the self checkout unless I'm in an extreme hurry. I have no interest in becoming an unpaid employee of Wal-Mart, Home Depot or any other retailer. If they want to make me a paid employee by discounting items processed through the self checkout lines, I'll consider it and be able to make an economic decision about whether the inconvenience is worth the pay.

On the one occasion I ran into the situation described by some above of only the self checkout lines open, I went to customer service and informed them if they wanted my money, they could find someone to check me out. Otherwise, they could put my cart full of goods back because I wasn't going help them any more than they were helping me. Miraculously, staffed check out lines opened.

Posted by: JimK | April 24, 2006 5:41 PM

I have a policy..I don't work for free. If and when retailers are willing to compensate me we may have something to discuss. Till then I expect service with a smile and I won't settle for less.

Posted by: Bill F. | April 24, 2006 8:48 PM

Would that human service with a smile include a cough, a sneeze or just the wipings of a sniffly nose on your groceries and jumbo bag of dog food? Isn't anyone grossed out by the thought of when the cashier and/or the bagger last washed their hands, especially after handling slightly leaky meat or poultry containing E. Coli or salmonella? Don't you think about the germs that the numerous people in front of you passed onto the cashier when she had to process their over-the-counter medicines for ailments you don't even want to think about let alone catch (warts, flu, diarrhea)?
I thank God and everyone responsible for the proliferation of self checkout machines. I prefer the self checkouts where you simply place what you scan directly into bags. I least like the machines where your items must pass down a conveyor belt, since the products tend to back up and often a bagger tries to assist but really just risks passing you the viruses and bacteria he harbors including those present on the items of the other shoppers he helped.
Why would anyone prefer to socialize with strangers working for stores? The time savings that seem to be attributable to self checkouts could be spent much better, perhaps with true family and friends. Maybe the Washington Post could investigate how often grocery store employees are sick or simply how often they wash their hands.

Posted by: Wonderer | April 25, 2006 2:20 AM

Imagine if you will a self automated convenience store and gas station. Basically one giant vending machine open 24 hours. One day you will see this happen and it will be successful.

You can protest at the lack of service a self-checkout machine provides but at some future date you will be the first in the line. Walmart has already proven that the consumer wants savings over the friendliness of a mom and pop store.

Posted by: PTT | April 25, 2006 11:51 AM

Oh I just LOVE self-checkout! Not at Home Depot, though, just the grocery stores. I think the annoying "read aloud" is truly aggravating, but it can't be turned off. It's some 508 compliance requirement for the blind or some such.

As a young persopn having had years of training, learning the correct way to bag groceries, which they don't teach anymore, I can ring and bag my items in half the time and nothing breaks. There are a few career cashiers who I will go to if I have the time, but that's not often.

I think it's somewhat ridiculous to worry about a store "saving money" with a self-checkout. Now those former cashiers are stocking or in the deli or on the floor helping (the very short) me reach items on the back of the top shelf.

This nonsense of not being able to politely relate to other humans and wanting everything automated is ridiculous too. We want to interact with people of our choosing, not every cashier/clerk on the planet. Chicken Little is right

Posted by: formerCashier | April 25, 2006 4:57 PM

I'm tired of paying for the "opportunity" to chat with an underpaid, undertrained cashier. If stores want me to make small talk with the cashiers, they ought to give me a discount for wasting my time. These are people I see all of five minutes, tops, every few weeks. When I say hello, it's because I'm being polite and acknowledging their existences, not because I actually care about them. I'd much rather pay to just get my stuff and get out. That is what I go shopping for: to shop, not to chat. If I want to talk, I'll call up a friend or family member - you know, people I actually care about. Shops should give me a discount every time I have to discuss the weather or some sports team with a cashier.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 26, 2006 3:10 PM

In theory, I think the machines are great - but there are 2 issues I have with them. First - they don't work very well. Reaching into my cart to grab an item, the machine says, "one moment, weighing item..." and there is no item there! You have to wait for the monitor-person to clear the machine on her console. Also, if I have a lot of items, I have to take the full grocery bag from the bagging area and move it to open a new bag, and the machine barks at me for removing the items, and I have to get the monitor person to reset the machine again. If I move an item too far past an invisible line near the bagging area (especially at Home Depot) it also freezes up. My second peeve is that people get up there and have no idea how to use the machine. This holds up the line tremendously and distracts the monitor person from reviewing all the stations - because she is over at some machine showing someone what a barcode is, or how to push a button. It is so frustrating that now I refuse to use them!!

Posted by: alexandria | April 27, 2006 4:47 PM

i use the giant in mclean (chain bridge road). I love the self-check outs and I think I am pretty darn good at it. My only issue is that people are on your butt if you don't go fast enough - if you have to enter fruit or veggies, it may take a second to look it up. They stand right behind you and huff and puff.

Also, i don't like that if you don't bag fast enough, the next person's stuff comes down the belt and into your stuff. I wish there was a way to divide things on the belt.

Posted by: mcleanite | April 27, 2006 7:27 PM

I hate lights because they take away from candle and match manufacturers. I hate indoor plumbing because bucket makers have to reduce their staffs. I hate telephones because the mailman no longer is around to carry my letter. I hate cars because buggy whips are harder and harder to find. I hate air conditioning because hand fan makers are going broke by cracky!

Get over it people. It is called progress. If you do not like self-checkout then DO NOT USE THEM!

Posted by: Pity Party | May 2, 2006 12:06 PM

The self checkouts we have at the Giant in Plymouth Meeting, PA are a slightly different design than the ones in the DC area. They have no belts and don't announce the price or product info. Because the machines are a compact design you can bag as you scan. It's also set up as one line for six machines, so one slow person doesn't have much impact on the speed of the line waiting for a machine.

I think the self checkouts are great because I can load up my bags the way I want to. No more damaged produce and overloaded bags that tear before I even get them home. Besides, I got tired of going to the staffed checkout lanes and watching the "helpful" staff drop my package of raspberies in the bag and then follow it up with a gallon of milk right on top: Instant Raspberry puree, yuk.

Posted by: PlymouthMeeting | May 2, 2006 2:46 PM

Like many folks, I usually do my grocery shopping on the way home from work. Since I tend to work long hours, this means I'm often shopping at 10 or 11 at night. So, the first time I ran across the self-checkout line at Giant was at about 10 PM. There was one cashier on duty--at the express lane. Since I had cart full of groceries, that wasn't an option. The self-checkout experience was a nightmare--the machine kept jamming, and I had to run back and forth between ringing up my groceries and bagging them.

I have run into this situation (no human cashiers on duty) at other Giant locations and have mentioned it to the managers, who don't seem to view it as a problem. The self-checkouts definitely appear to be more for the convenience and cost-savings for the store, rather than for the benefit of the customer. Another poster suggested that, if you don't like self-checkout, don't use it. I agree. But, Giant isn't always giving customers an option--other than to leave the store without buying anything, which I have also done.

I used to run by Giant several times a week, but I rarely shop there anymore. I tend to stock up on staples elsewhere, and run into Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Balducci's, Wegman's, etc. when I need to fill in with a few items.

Posted by: susan | May 4, 2006 2:27 PM

I worked for Giant, and usually ran the self checkouts. They aren't faster, one good cashier can run as many customers as 3 to 4 self checkouts. But customers like them because it gives the illusion that it's faster because they are doing something, not just standing there waiting for the cashier. Also, I use the self checkouts at Food Lion, everytime I let a cashier check me out, somehow I get double charged for at least 2 or more items. I complained to the store manager and was told that it was an "accident". 5 times in a row isn't an accident. I believe the cashiers are trying to pump up the sales and hoping the customer doesn't catch it.

And one last item for using the self checkouts. I am an avid coupon user. The self checkout register doesn't check experation dates. I've used coupons over a year old with no problem. I can subtract $15 to $25 off per $100. of groceries, if I can use the coupons without dates.

Posted by: SoinFool2 | May 4, 2006 4:00 PM

I worked for Giant, and usually ran the self checkouts. They aren't faster, one good cashier can run as many customers as 3 to 4 self checkouts. But customers like them because it gives the illusion that it's faster because they are doing something, not just standing there waiting for the cashier. Also, I use the self checkouts at Food Lion, everytime I let a cashier check me out, somehow I get double charged for at least 2 or more items. I complained to the store manager and was told that it was an "accident". 5 times in a row isn't an accident. I believe the cashiers are trying to pump up the sales and hoping the customer doesn't catch it.

And one last item for using the self checkouts. I am an avid coupon user. The self checkout register doesn't check experation dates. I've used coupons over a year old with no problem. I can subtract $15 to $25 off per $100. of groceries, if I can use the coupons without dates.

Posted by: SoinFool2 | May 4, 2006 4:00 PM

Giant self checkouts - meh, don't go through them with produce, unless what you're buying has the coded stickers on and you can simply type it in. Scrolling through the pages of produce options to find the correct picture or your item is a PITA.

Home Depot's self checkouts are an abomination.

I agree with those who are on the "practice makes perfect" side of the line, experience with the particular type of check out system, coupled with Giant's having a bagger or staffer nearby most of the time keeps things fairly smooth there.

Avoid Home Despot's system like the plague. I, too, go straight to the contractor register.

Posted by: mwolson | July 11, 2006 8:06 AM

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