Move your TOILET PAPER to the belt, you putrid jockey of filth.
March 15, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Self-Checkout. An essay in six parts.

  1. The Daredevil: A quick breath, and a shake of the head. Focus on the present, the task at hand. Come on. You are resolved to acquire these bourgeois lemons at day-laborer prices. Focus.
  2. The Greeter: As a greeter, obviously my primary responsibility is to the machines. I joke sometimes that I answer to the machines, but really that’s only half a joke. I guess the joke’s other half would be that I’m their boss, that they answer to me. Which they do, in a manner of speaking, once I swipe into ‘em.
  3. The Ghost in the Machine: What claim do you have to the items on my belt? Place the item on the belt, I admonish, when you do not place the item on the belt. Place the item in the bagging area. I am the one who must play peace officer to your vigilantism.
  4. Locke & Marx: In this case, we are allowing consumers to perform the exact same job the laborers once did. The position of the grocery store checkout clerk is primed to suffer a fate worse than obsolescence.
  5. Chris Martin of Coldplay: But here we are, chap, you’re still asking me: How did Coldplay get inside the self-checkout machines?
  6. The Daredevil (part two): “What I’ve done is…” You decide to speak openly, ploddingly, and quietly, spelling out the events of your misdeed. “While using the self-checkout machine… I deliberately misrepresented what I was buying.”
posted by Cash4Lead (61 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
This is very funny.

FTW (from part 4):

But the iPhone is a device emblematic of the darling component of today’s automation. For what it has over and above the cotton gin is the screen. Indeed, today’s developments in automation for many marketable consumer goods consist in mass production of screened goods. For maximal automatic potential, this screen is a touchscreen, enhancing the ability for the screen to turn the product interface into an ersatz material universe. Any kitchen appliance without a touchscreen will soon be readily pointed out as in need of upgrade. This simulacrum of the natural world has become by far the most immediate element of the consumer’s experience in the natural world, and thus we can’t be surprised when the screen is lionized by all parties in capitalist society as the prime directive and fundamental truth. As you’ve noted, John, our shopper seems to want things in the store to be local and organic. But what is more organic in this economy than the endlessly manipulable vista of a touchscreen? What is more local than the device already in your pocket? Safeway, you whoremonger. You know that to really be local and organic in America today is to be a screen.
posted by chavenet at 7:44 AM on March 15, 2014

Wow, what a fantastic essay.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:57 AM on March 15, 2014

Welcome to Metafilter. Please enter your apology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:14 AM on March 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Um, the first one? Am I a bad person for just fucking wanting him to pay the proper price for the lemons, lemons that he describes as some sort of fucking holy grail? Or am I getting needlessly annoyed again?
posted by angrycat at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

So perfect for right now. A lengthy piece of great writing appears that ultimately represents a certain sort of interests that are always represented, reproduced and valued as better. Then in true fashion of the day the splendid writing of this Ph.D. candidate in philosophy who has almost crafted a book at this url meets the eyes of the only person who saw fit to leave a comment, "fuck safeway. GIANT 4 LYFE".
posted by cashman at 8:18 AM on March 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

Take your change and your receipt and have a pleasant day.
posted by Flashman at 8:28 AM on March 15, 2014

ready-made pie crust (because, after all, let’s not go crazy here),

No lemons can save you.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:35 AM on March 15, 2014 [12 favorites]

Um, the first one?

OK the first one legitimately pissed me off. But then the second one gets patently absurd about halfway through, and I realized that I am turning into one of those people that has a hard time detecting satire. I'm going to blame it on 'pregnancy brain' for now. (Score!)

Also, this bit from #3 (Ghost in the machine) is effing hilarious:

Welcome to the new phase in human history that my presence has inaugurated: soon, greeting cards will no longer be available for purchase. So, too: yarn, cotton balls, postcards, feathers, stickers, and some seasoning packets. In their stead, you might dare enjoy communing with your fellow man.

Even the machines will judge us. Welcome to the future!
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:40 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Is it because of the appalling taste you have? I will not abet this item.
posted by jquinby at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is everything I detest about self checkout machines and so I love it.
posted by arcticseal at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I hadn't realized before that self-checkout machines were job creators.
posted by MtDewd at 9:05 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I gave up on those infernal machines once I realized that I'd never managed to get through a single transaction without causing the thing to get upset and have to have the attendant come over and do some magic to unstick it. I'll just wait for a human cashier. Or go to Trader Joe's where they only employ humans.
posted by octothorpe at 9:10 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I prefer self-checkout almost everywhere EXCEPT Safeway. Their machines are agonizingly slow.

Trader Joe's

Are they contractually obligated to say, "Have you tried that (product) before? That is my favorite (product)! Isn't it the best/you'll love it." ? Because that kind of forced, fakery relatability at every TJ checkout is incredibly grating.
posted by curious nu at 9:50 AM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I loathe self-checkout lanes. Most people take forever, so it's almost always faster to go to a regular lane, sadly.

The future is the self-scan programs. Use a handheld scanner or your phone app to scan items as you place them in your bag, then just pay at the dedicated station when you leave - takes 30 seconds. They audit you every now and then, but if they don't ever find anything wrong they stop doing it so often. I drive a little further to get to the Giant that does this, it's incredibly convenient.
posted by gemmy at 10:05 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Safeway near my house, as of last fall, no longer permits the purchase of alcohol (and presumably cigarettes, although I have no idea for sure) at the self-checkout.
posted by Earthtopus at 10:07 AM on March 15, 2014

I will use a self checkout only when I get a discount and the machine issues me a 1099 for the amount of the discount. Working for free doesn't work for me.
posted by three blind mice at 10:11 AM on March 15, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'll use the self-checkout if I've got a few things - one hand-basket's worth, for example. If I've filled a cart, I'll use a cashier because at Publix they'll haul it all to your car for you and take the cart back with them when they're done. Very handy, that.
posted by jquinby at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2014

Um, the first one? Am I a bad person for just fucking wanting him to pay the proper price for the lemons, lemons that he describes as some sort of fucking holy grail? Or am I getting needlessly annoyed again?

Do you have a hard time reading fiction in general? I don't think it's meant to be a realistic depiction of his actual shopping practices.
posted by empath at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

The future is the self-scan programs.

Surely the future is RFID on/in every product so you bag your groceries as you shop, wheel your cart through or past a scanner, swipe your card, and leave.
posted by straight at 10:24 AM on March 15, 2014

curious nu, that conversational fakery applies at Whole Foods, too. One afternoon I swung by WF to pick up some ice cream. It was slammed, every register had a line, & the one I picked was a newly trained checker outer who felt some obligation to engage in lengthy conversation with every person he checked out. When he finally got to me, he asked, "What's your favorite ice cream?" I looked at him coldly & said, "Any kind I can get Right Now." He didn't go any faster, so I think the message was lost on him.
posted by yoga at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2014

Am I a bad person for just fucking wanting him to pay the proper price for the lemons, lemons that he describes as some sort of fucking holy grail?

Everyone wants him to pay for the lemons. I skipped ahead to the last part to read the ending, then went back and read the Coldplay interlude.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I avoid most setups where they're just trying to put someone out of work and make me do the work myself.
posted by bongo_x at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I will use a self checkout only when I get a discount and the machine issues me a 1099 for the amount of the discount. Working for free doesn't work for me.

You should also refuse to push a cart down the aisles picking things off shelves. That's the job of an Amazon employee, and even in legacy stores the norm used to be that you asked a grocer for what you wanted and employees picked it out.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:20 AM on March 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

In this case, we are allowing consumers to perform the exact same job the laborers once did. The position of the grocery store checkout clerk is primed to suffer a fate worse than obsolescence.

Oh the hyperbole, it burns! As far as I'm concerned, having a clerk check your groceries makes about as much sense as having an attendant refuel your car at the gas station. Stagecoach drivers, milkmen, and elevator operators had to face obsolescence and so will grocery clerks (except in those areas where the people are too hoity-toity to deign to handle groceries themselves).

The Safeway near my house, as of last fall, no longer permits the purchase of alcohol (and presumably cigarettes, although I have no idea for sure) at the self-checkout.

Not only that, most of the Safeway stores in my area don't have self-checkout. Now that they've been purchased by Albertsons--who removed all their self-checkouts a couple of years ago--I expect them to disappear from Safeway too. Meh, Albertsons and Safewy, I don't want to deal with your chatty and nosy clerks.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Legacy grocery stores

I'm old, but not that old.
posted by three blind mice at 11:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The idea of John Locke and Karl Marx arguing in a Safeway in surprisingly delightful.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

You should also refuse to push a cart down the aisles picking things off shelves. That's the job of an Amazon employee, and even in legacy stores the norm used to be that you asked a grocer for what you wanted and employees picked it out.

Forget that! I'm not conversing with a grocer, I have indentured servants for that!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I abhor self-checkout, because of the way the stupid machines are setup, but I certainly don't mind having to pack my own bags at WinCo, the local employee owned grocery. I can put the cold foods in together, pack the veg and fruit together, and make sure the fragile stuff is on top, EVERY TIME. Makes things much easier to put away.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2014

they put stickers on the fruit. why can't the stickers on the fruit identify the fruit to the self checkout machine like every other fucking item in the store? why? tell me why!
I have honestly become a more patient line-waiter in the grocery store because i realize that all i would have to do to get out of the store faster is use the self checkout but i won't use the self checkout because it makes me look up the code for teh fruit.
Is there an online course i could take to learn the codes for the fruit? i would take such a course.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:59 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

that kind of forced, fakery relatability at every TJ checkout is incredibly grating

Each time I tried out TJ's when I was in New York, the checkout line wound halfway around the store and the 20something hipster cashier kept up this weird flirty banter while ringing up my basket. I thought it was a one time thing until it happened again and again and I finally clued in that it was a forced performance that they had to do with every customer. It skeeved me out so much that I never went back.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, where are the auto-scan checkouts that we were promised back in the early '00s? The ones were you just push a cart full of RFID tagged merchandise through an airport scanner and it's rung up in less than a second? Did the candybar/breathmint/magazine lobby kill that project?
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Honestly I was not that angry at The Daredevil because Meyer lemons are not the same thing as regular lemons. He's gonna get his just desserts either way.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is an authentically human life even possible anymore in modern America? Sometimes I worry that the last generation to get to live something like a normal life in even a simulacrum of a community were the parents of we Reconstructionists.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:33 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

OHenryPacey: when I was a Safeway checker (way back before self check) they gave us a list of codes to memorize and then we had to take a test. Make friends with your local clerk and then ask them to make you a copy? I know I could have been bought off for some kind words and an Odwalla in college.

There's this as well. U still have some memorized which makes self-check less painful.

I'm interested to see discussions of the checker banter/shilling at Whole Foods/TJ. I have also worked for a popular "fresh" mall cosmetics company. The clerks there are not on commission but the store wants you to chat about the products constantly, for obvious reasons. It just kind of becomes the culture of the store and the nature of the job. I would shift into autopilot on it. For me, doing what my manager wanted to do, and being positive about the products made the day go much faster. Everyone eats, and not everyone wants to chat about "OMG how much do you love these cookies??" but if you're coming into an expensive cosmetics store customers may actually be interested in discussing organic cocoa butter and the properties of neroli oil. And of course you're making more sales that way.
posted by Lardmitten at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

At least where and when I shop, self-checkout lines are slower than equivalent lanes with humans doing the work. The number of problems that occur are such that a human is always assigned to "assist" at the self-checkout. If that person were working a register, it would all go faster...

So--why the self checkout when it is demonstrably slower? I suspect it is that stubborn belief by upper management that they will be able someday to dispense with inconvenient labor costs (meaning employees) altogether. The slower lines will be the price we pay for their lower costs. And if every grocery except a few high-end does this, there will be little choice. Progress!
posted by librosegretti at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I apparently am the sore thumb in this discussion. I LOVE self checkout. I can check out in half the time it takes the normal checkers to move the items. There's almost never a line at the Safeway I use. And, it's sort of a game of optimization where I have to figure out how to get the items scanned and stacked as quick as possible. My favorite game is to get checkout completed before the machine is finished telling me about the items I purchased.

Quick tip: Don't look for the upc so you can position the item. Spin the item on the scanner and it'll find the upc wherever it may be.

Quick tip #2: Always scan 2 items first before entering your fake safeway card#. For some reason it's not possible to enter the number until scanning one item, but there is a short delay after that. But, it's always there and ready to be entered after the second item is scanned.

There's also the issue that I used to hate it when I had to sign documents in triplicate in order to convince the checkers that, YES, I DON'T WANT ANY FUCKING BAGS. Seriously, I'd say no bags and then sometimes they'd forget and bag anyway, sometimes they would ask to bag specific items, and sometimes they'd triple check and ask me multiple times if I really wanted no bags whatsoever. Sometimes I'd tell the checker and then a bagger would walk over and I'd need to convince the bagger that truly, I don't want bags.

However, that last complaint has thankfully gone away once we got the gift of 10 cent bags. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!) Now it's a common thing for people to refuse bags, so I don't need to get a note from my lawyer, mother, doctor, and congressional representative to convince them I don't want bags.

Why don't I want bags? It's because I always hated the incredible waste that results from using bags for the 2 minutes required to go from store to car to home. I just pile things into my arms and carry stuff in at home.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:53 PM on March 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've used th self checkout a few times and it's neat and all but I miss bullshitting with the cashier.
posted by jonmc at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I have any significant amount of groceries, I prefer to use the normal checkout lanes because it'll most likely be quick and human interaction can be strangely good every once in a while. But if I'm just popping by to pick up two or three items then the self-checkout it is. I don't want to wait behind a family buying $200 worth of groceries or someone that has questions about every single item just so I can buy bread for the week.

As for Trader Joe's, it's been really hit or miss with the cashiers there from my experience. Sometimes it's great and I can get through pretty quickly. But the number of times I see the aisle next to me moving smoothly while I'm stuck behind a friendly cashier and their favorite customer talking for five minutes about their plans for the weekend is maddening.
posted by fishmasta at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here the Safeway (and Home Depot) self check lines are way faster. The Superstore self checkout lines are slower when it gets busy because they only have four registers. Either way I vastly prefer the self serve lines because I hate checkout banter. And because the self serve registers are a unified line and the checker lines are dedicated the self serve line is less "You're paying for a bottle of milk with a cheque!" rage inducing because you don't get stuck behind those people; the line flows around them.

OHenryPacey: "Is there an online course i could take to learn the codes for the fruit? i would take such a course."

I've got most of the codes I use regularly memorized now but when I buy something unusual I just write the code on my shopping list; the codes are written on the shelf tags.
posted by Mitheral at 1:05 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work in a shop with self checkouts.

We have targets set by The Ivory Tower Head Office, which means that we basically have to annoy people into using the SCO's. We do this by only ever having one person on a till, no matter how long the queue gets. I've noticed that we don't get as much complaining about queue length as I expected, possibly because people know that they have another option*.

I'm also surprised by the amount of people who use the SCO's without ever being prompted. Even when I'm at the till twiddling my thumbs, I've noticed people walk up to a SCO and use it. To be fair, I do this myself when I'm out shopping - it's one less person to deal with. I've heard all of the arguments about how the SCO is doing me out of a job, how people don't like using them, etc. Even though, I still prefer to use them. I can ring items through as quickly as any other cashier and get gone without having to talk to anyone, or often wait in a queue.

Also, watching people try to use them for the first time is sometimes amusing. I was once checking out and overheard the machine opposite mine say "please put the item in the bagging area". I didn't take much notice until it said it again. The person scanning the whatever-it-was was holding the item within the area above the pressure plate. Putting the item onto the bagging platform weighs the item and helps prevent someone from scanning one item and putting a more expensive item in their bag. There are obviously ways round that sort of thing, but a company has to figure out how much they're likely to use versus paying someone to operate a checkout.

*I was once serving someone at the till and needed to check the price on something. I dashed off the till, got the price and came back. I was walking through the SCO area when a customer asked me to put her items through on the self checkout for her. She apparently didn't want to wait in the queue but also didn't understand the concept of SELF checkout.
posted by Solomon at 1:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I forgot to relate one final story about bags (see my previous post for context). After the 10 cent bag thing started, normally it's easy to refuse bags. However one time the self checkout lines were closed and the normal checkout was having problems. We waited in line for quite a while. When thing were working again I go to the front of the line and said my usual "no bags". His response? "Oh, it's ok. You waited a long time, so there'll be no charge for the bags." Oh the humanity!
posted by HappyEngineer at 1:47 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to love self checkout, but the last few times I've tried to use it, it's gone absolutely bonkers and assuming I'm trying to steal stuff and making the machine lord person have to come over to OK ever other fucking item I put in the bagging area. Look I know theft is a problem, but there's a limit to how many times you can halt the process insisting I put the item in the bagging area when I clearly put the god damn item in the god damn bagging area.
posted by aspo at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Come to think of it, my biggest problem with self-checkout is that the machines are so low to the grow it's actually markedly less ergonomic than when I used to check people's groceries for a living. Last year's massive sciatica attack convinced me to be done with that, but the self-checkout scanners are somehow even lower.
posted by Earthtopus at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

There seems to be some rhythm to the self-checkout that I could never master. I was always either moving my items too fast or too slow. If you go too slow it yells at you to move your items to the belt but if you go too fast and it freaks out and refuses to continue until the lady with the key comes over and resets it while glaring at you.
posted by octothorpe at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2014

It's a little weird how disparate peoples' self-checkout experiences seem to be. The HEB (local-to-TX grocery chain) I go to in Austin seems to have their machines pretty well dialled in. It's almost always faster to use them than to wait in checkout lines, because of all the aforementioned "let me use a check for my 3 items/hold on I've never run my debit card through a POS thing before somehow/please run across the store to get me a pack of cigarettes/hey how's the wife and kids" stuff. Even given how incompetent people tend to be at using the self-checkout-machines, it's still usually faster. So I tend to use them even though I think they're ominous and anti-worker, because hey, less time in the store!

They also have scales that print price-label things in the produce dept, so you can note the number for the potato, weigh it on the scale and get a bar-code sticker printed out so you can stick it to the potato instead of looking it up by picture at the checkout machine. Not sure if that's a thing elsewhere.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2014

A superficial Google of "produce codes" seems to bring up useful results for learning them. Also, self checkout is a good way to get rid of accumulated change without having to pay a mordita. (As long as there is no one in line behind you.)
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:03 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the human checkers because I can chat with them about wine while they're ringing things up. "You've never tried gruner veltliner? Well let me tell you all about it!"
posted by Jawn at 5:04 PM on March 15, 2014

Safeway's self checkouts seem to have been designed to trip me up every single time. I can't remember the last time I didn't have to get assistance during check out. Until they get a system that doesn't wig out every time, I'm sticking with the normal checkout manned by a human.
posted by arcticseal at 5:45 PM on March 15, 2014

I always use the self-checkout, because I'm continually worrying that the grocery clerk will not know what a portobello mushroom is and will undercharge me. Why, that's just like STEALING!

Nah, I always use checkers. They have jobs, mouths to feed, and are almost always pleasant. The computers are cold.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:57 PM on March 15, 2014

One of the little touches about back home (Michigan/Illinois) that I really miss is the register banter. I loved it. It's simultaneously a person you don't know trying to inject a little human warmth into your day, and a chance for you, yourself, to do the same for another person. I get that there are people who recoil at the idea of having to talk to another person, to have a standard social interaction. Being raised at the crèche has its advantages, I guess, and robot mother always kept the milk at the right temperature, I guess, even if all the blankets were the same monotone beige.

Also, I'm the customer. I'm there to buy my stuff. I'm not the employee. I don't like being pushed to do labor for free. The elevator comparison is kind of ridiculous. I push one button, then I wait. The stage coach drivers have taxis and buses now. Ringing up groceries is another pile of tedium and monotony that, at the end of the day of the work I'm actually paid to do, I'm just not up for.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:33 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your self-service checkout machine doesn't banter with you? You should spend more time in the whipped cream aisle.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I find the automated checkouts a little more conversational, polite and efficient than the local human variety.

Besides - I fucking hate the little divider that's supplied to ensure that dickhead in front of me doesn't accidentally present (heaven forbid) my stuff to the operator. HANG ON, WHAT THE FUCK! YOU'RE TRICKING ME INTO BUYING YOUR AVOCADO! - I SAW THE WAY IT ROLLED FORWARD AND NUDGED MY FILO PASTRY.
posted by mattoxic at 7:34 PM on March 15, 2014

I don’t know where all you people live that there’s so much chatting in the checkout lines, but I’ve never lived anywhere like that. "Hi, how are you?" is pretty much it. I’ve occasionally heard other people chatting in line, but not normally. Is this a MidWest thing?
posted by bongo_x at 9:56 PM on March 15, 2014

bongo_x, I don't know about other areas, but it is a pretty normal thing in the Midwest. You're standing in front of another person for however long it takes to check out. It would be weird not to make some kind of small talk. The weather, work, just normal chit-chat. Depending on where you shop, or how small the store is, you might actually get to sort of know the register person, and they'll remember you, and it'll be like a conversation that you have every once in a while.

After I moved overseas, from time to time, the woman at the register where my mom bought groceries would ask how I was doing, and how things were going for me. Perfectly normal, friendly behavior. Personally, I still can't get used to shopping in Japan, where there's no conversation, the checkout person just reads off the price of each item you buy, and thanks you for shopping. Out of habit, I've tried to chat, which just sort of freaks them out a little.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:49 PM on March 15, 2014

Interesting, I was just struck at how many people mentioned they were trying to avoid conversation, and I couldn’t imagine where all this unwanted conversation happens. Around here it’s "Hi" and the total. I could actually check out at my local grocery store, not say a damn thing, and the clerk probably wouldn’t either. It wouldn’t be that uncommon, but I try to be friendlier than that.

I occasionally have a clerk make a comment about the weather, or the flavor of ice cream I’m buying, but they are the chatty exceptions.
posted by bongo_x at 11:15 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

people mentioned they were trying to avoid conversation

Eh, it's not that for me, it's being in line behind people who for some reason find things to talk about with the cashier, it's not that all cashiers or people in line do it, just the ones in front of me :(

Don't think I don't know I'm part of whatever the problem is! I just am absolutely crap at smalltalk, and if for example I don't go to a particular convenience store for awhile, and the cashier is all 'oh hey where you been we've missed you' - and kind of goes on about it, and this has happened more than a couple of times - I might feel so awkward that I avoid the place some more after that.

But even more than that, it's just that I hate being in grocery stores, shopping isn't therapeutic for me, it's the opposite, and anything that prolongs the experience, I'd prefer to avoid.
posted by hap_hazard at 11:29 PM on March 15, 2014

Guys, the codes for fruit and veg items are the digits printed on the little non-scannable stickers on each of said items. Punch in those numbers and you're home free with no memorization required!
posted by HoteDoge at 11:37 PM on March 15, 2014

Lots of vegetables lack those stickers.
posted by Mitheral at 12:02 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the view that self checkouts are more work for the customer than regular checkouts.

At the regular checkout I have to handle every item once to put it on the belt, stand and wait while the person in front finishes up, and then handle every item again to bag it, trying to keep up with the scanning speed of the cashier so it doesn't all pile up.

At the self checkout, I handle everything once: pick it up, scan it, put it straight down into the bag. It's WAY quicker and easier, even if you ignore the lower waiting time in the queue.
posted by emilyw at 9:34 AM on March 16, 2014

This is one of the best essays I've ever read.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 7:03 AM on March 17, 2014

Safeway's self-checkout system seems to be crappy, but Giant's is pretty good. I believe they updated all the machines and software late last year (it's an IBM system of some sort), and it's definitely faster.

It still tends to bungle things up if you try to use coupons, though. For those, you are much better off going to a human cashier.

However, the SCOs interface really well to the scan-it-yourself "scan gun" system that they just introduced at my local Giant. It's this thing where you go into the store and scan your bonus card, and pick up a scangun from a kiosk at the front of the store. As you shop, you scan the UPCs on stuff and put it directly into your own bags, in the cart. When you get to the front of the store you scan a special barcode on the SCO, and it transfers the list of items from the gun to the SCO. Then you pay using the SCO as normal, without scanning anything. It's much faster than the regular SCO process, and there's no need to unload all your crap out of the cart and have it bagged, reload it into the cart, etc. It seems to work more smoothly if you go through an SCO aisle than a manned aisle, for some reason (presumably the SCO machines have newer software than the manned checkout aisles, which appear to have older POS machines).

It's not quite the walk-through RFID systems that we were promised back in the 90s and early 00s, but it's an incremental improvement. I use it most of the time if I'm getting more than a few items (in which case, I'll just use the normal SCO).

And yeah, I'm aware of the whole job-elimination thing, but I'm not sure that it really eliminates as many jobs as the people implementing the systems think it does. I think it just replaces cashiers with people-who-fix-SCO-machines and people-who-fix-scangun-system-machines, which as a former checkout clerk, strikes me as a much more interesting job.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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