Opinion: Self-Checkout Luddites Are Damaging My Calm

Opinion: Self-Checkout Luddites Are Damaging My Calm

While Aussie supermarkets like Coles keep rolling out self-checkout aisles, some major US chains like Albertson’s are already eliminating them. Management claims they’re too impersonal. What a crock. That’s a polite way of saying some people are simply ill-equipped to use them efficiently.

Having lived where where I live in the US for about six years now, I have never once interacted with a person at my local supermarket, which is a Shaw’s. Why bother? I know where everything is, what my habits are, and that I want to get in there and out as quickly as possible.

Now, there is nothing even remotely remarkable about this Shaw’s, save for the fact that, long ago, the management decided to install four self-checkout kiosks. For a guy like me, who enjoys shopping daily with what friends have told me is a snooty “European style” (i.e. just the items I need for dinner that night), these kiosks are just the thing I need to get in, check my items, pay, and get out fairly quickly. For the 15 Items of Less crowd, these breezy aisles are perfection (When I look at supermarket futurism porn it looks exactly like this subway station, if that helps clarify my thought food shopping thought process a bit more).

To be fair, these machines are imperfect. Sometimes the software crashes. Sometimes the software is slow, almost as if it, too, has been broken by the monotony of scanning some yuppie’s Bon Apetite magazine-seasonally suggested kumquat for the umpteenth time. In this regard they are very much like their human being counterparts, so why complain about removing them, right?

Well, my natural inclination to be a snobby tech asshole aside (Biddle can relate, right?), these glitches are rare, and even with them the the kiosks will inevitably save the companies that employ them about “minimum wage/hour,” don’t get sick, don’t get tired and don’t complain. Most importantly, they save customers time. That is, they save time until some Luddite comes along and throws a wrench in the works.

Here’s a brief list of the situations that I’ve seen during six years of extensive self-checkout usage and research in the field that have probably led to Albertson’s pulling the plug:

– Shopper brings entire cart of goods to the “15 Items or Less” self-checkout, proceeds to wonder aloud why they take so long

– Shopper brings cart-sized load to self-checkout, scans items, and places them back in the cart. Complains loudly about the weight-related error messages

– English-speaking customer selects Spanish on the home screen

– Shopper cannot find their produce in the alphabetized list of large, colorful picture buttons of produce on the touchscreen interface

And so on. You’ll notice it’s mostly what’s called “Luser error” going on there, which probably makes the self-checkout line an inevitable workplace flashback zone for any IT guy who is unlucky enough to have to use one.

Anyway, I really hope Shaw’s is reading this. I really hope they keep my coveted self-checkout aisle and allow we, the scan-savvy consumers, to keep our independence and hyper-efficient checkout tendencies intact. It will mean fewer bagger and checkout jobs for high school kids and retirees, sure, but it’s not a complete elimination. As we can see full-well from Albertson’s, there will still be a large demand for personal interaction at the grocery store. Just leave the automatons alone and let us use them in peace. [CNET]