"Unexpected item in bag"
October 22, 2016 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Howard Schneider was a doctor treating psychiatric patients in the ER when he decided to transform the grocery store experience. He set out to invent the self checkout machine (partial transcript here). Schneider's self-checkout kiosk was first deployed at a Price Chopper supermarket in Clifton Park, New York in 1992.

Schneider's original patent here: The present invention relates to retail point-of-sale systems which allow the customer to check out purchased items with a minimum of operator intervention while preventing customer fraud.

Self checkouts have been a source of frustration and controversy ever since, for both consumers and retailers:

Self checkouts: Who really benefits from the technology?

Self-Checkout Technology: Human-use Experience Analysis

20 Reasons Why Self-Service Checkouts Are Just The Worst

How To Stop Those Self-Checkout Thieves

Self-checkout and self-service kiosk vendors seem to be confused about how accessible design works, and who they need to consider when designing their units:

Evaluation of a redesigned self-checkout station for wheelchair users.

Experts discuss making kiosks accessible:
Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said kiosk deployers can easily make their machines accessible to not only the blind, but to people with a variety of disabilities.

"Keep in mind these changes would also help those with low vision, reading disabilities and physical disabilities," he said.

Because customer service is moving away from human interaction and more toward self-service, making kiosks accessible to as many people as possible is the only fair thing to do, according to Vanderheiden.

"It's really hard to travel if you can't use a kiosk. Airports are sometimes so busy that the only way you can make your flight is by checking in at the kiosk instead of waiting in a long line," he said.

And adding the accessibility isn't rocket science, said Vanderheiden. In fact, his research group at the University of Wisconsin has been developing for several years the accessibility features that the NFB is demanding.

"The cross-disability techniques pioneered here at the university have already been built into automated postal kiosks, Amtrak ticket machines, and Information systems at Phoenix Airport and are available from several companies," he said.

The main problem is that many deployers are taking the "let's wait and see what happens" approach — waiting until they are required by law to implement accessibility features — according to Vanderheiden. He said going that route is a huge mistake.
posted by mandolin conspiracy (86 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Now if only somebody could invent a self checkout machine that doesn't freak out when I bring my own bag...
posted by blalien at 6:33 PM on October 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


blalien: The trick is to put your bag in the bagging area before you push a button or scan an item. When you do that, the scales tare out, ignoring anything already sitting there.
posted by SansPoint at 6:35 PM on October 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


One night a patient came to the ER and said "all the clerks at the Food Giant have been replaced by robots!", and Dr. Schneider paused for a moment, and then said to himself "well, why not?"
posted by jamjam at 7:17 PM on October 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


My favourite bit in the story: Schneider's office in Toronto has no receptionist, just an iPad with a survey form to fill out. It's self check-in.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:20 PM on October 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Schneider's self-checkout kiosk was first deployed at a Price Chopper supermarket in Clifton Park, New York in 1992.

Wait, what?
posted by mikelieman at 7:20 PM on October 22, 2016


Most of those scams in the how to stop thieves link are kinda lame, but this one is pretty good! It's simple and elegant;
The banana trick – putting a $10 a pound package of steak or coffee on the scale, while looking up and entering bananas at 69 cents a pound.
I never think of these things.
posted by notyou at 7:28 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wait, what?

Apparently true!

He was initially turned down by other grocery chains. The Planet Money episode is worth listening to - they take him grocery shopping and make him use a present-day one.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:44 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


One night a patient came to the ER and said "all the clerks at the Food Giant have been replaced by robots!", and Dr. Schneider paused for a moment, and then said to himself "well, why not?"

I had a customer tell me that they hated using the (grocery store) self-checkout machines, refused to use them and went on to say "Thank god I'll be dead before everything will be replaced by robots!". As someone who has to deal with self-checkout machines on a near daily basis: I hope they die in a fire.

Now, things like ticket kiosks and ATM's seem fine and are pretty convenient. But grocery store ones are so finicky and freak out 60% of the time and are only OK when you have a small order - not huge shopping carts worth of stuff.... that's when they start freaking out 90% of the time and then the customer starts freaking out and everyone has a bad time.
posted by littlesq at 8:12 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


One sad bit in the planet money trip to the grocery store is when they can't find the button for the red pepper. This is exactly the kind of thing that deep learning is great at, and even regularly exceeds human ability, especially when distinguishing between very similar sub species.

But it will probably be about fifty years before the supermarket chains decide it's worth it to throw a camera on the craptastic self service check out...
posted by kaibutsu at 8:59 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


“When you do that, the scales tare out, ignoring anything already sitting there.”

In my experience this doesn't work with bike panniers.

In fact, while I kinda like self-checkout kiosks, the many rough corners of "doesn't quite work" described in some of the links are a common frustration—laggy touch screens with giant complicated menus, 25 places on the machine you have to interact with at various stages scattered all over the place and not in any logical sequence, no little shelf for your wallet/purse/whatever, and step out of line one millimeter and you invoke the “is anybody coming or not?” light.
posted by traveler_ at 9:12 PM on October 22, 2016


Allow me to sing the praises of self checkout in one place: the library!

Gone are the days when I had to choose between buying bodice rippers for my Kindle or letting my local librarian catch on to my reading habits. Now I can check out books at my library without ever having to talk to someone who might judge me.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:24 PM on October 22, 2016 [26 favorites]


Normally I prefer an actual real human checkout, but I have been known to stand there for five minutes emptying several dollars worth of accumulated pocket change into one of the self-checkout machines.

They take pennies! Nothing takes pennies!
posted by ckape at 9:32 PM on October 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


So when all grocery stores have installed self-checkout kiosks and laid-off all their cashiers (which I strongly suspect they in their heart-of-hearts eventually hope to do), we'll know who to blame. Thanks Doc!
posted by e-man at 9:39 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I hate people, and normally I would be all over something that allowed me to avoid human interaction, but I hate these machines even more, so no.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:57 PM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


But it will probably be about fifty years before the supermarket chains decide it's worth it to throw a camera on the craptastic self service check out

Most the them do already, at least at the larger chains. It's how the staff watching over the lanes can resolve problems without coming over already (and try to keep an eye out for people misidentifying expensive items). Machine vision wasn't quite accurate enough to make it into the last major revisions of the self checkout systems, but I expect it'll be common within five years.
posted by Candleman at 10:14 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Howard Schneider, you monster.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:23 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


At King Soopers they switch to self-service-only at 10PM and condoms have to be authorized by a person
posted by aydeejones at 1:07 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


As somebody who has worked in supermarkets, and as somebody who is trans and can't be fucked with shaving on a daily basis, I fucking love self-checkouts. I hated working tills. And I've always hated dealing with cashiers. I do not want to have a conversation with anyone when I'm sporting the better part of a week's stubble and I'm picking up lube and junk food. But cashiers are invariably trained to converse with customers. Fuck that! I also know full well from being in the break room myself that cashiers judge the fuck out of you and remember your face. Doubly so if you're a colleague, of course.

Meanwhile, all the complaints about self checkouts in this thread read to me as out of touch. I suspect it's a US vs UK thing or something, but all the problems people are talking about in this thread are things I haven't encountered for years now. They've got on top of just making that shit work over here.
posted by Dysk at 1:34 AM on October 23, 2016 [11 favorites]


One sad bit in the planet money trip to the grocery store is when they can't find the button for the red pepper.

Technically, that was an unusually squat and red banana.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:35 AM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


The local supermarket actually took out all the self-checkouts after their recent expansion and remodel. Another store from the same chain about a mile away was remodeled a year ago and has them though 🤔
posted by clorox at 3:25 AM on October 23, 2016


I think either the self checkouts are getting better or people are getting better trained on them, because most of the teething problems ("Unexpected item in bagging area. Please wait for assistance"... on repeat) seem to have fallen. I always go to the self checkout now because its almost always much faster.

Yes, they can be a bit tricky to use, but they're mostly not tempermental. As long as you don't try to scan the next item before the one you just scanned is on the scale, keep a look out for stuff falling off the scale and messing with the weighing, and don't try to buy things which need staff approval when there's obviously nobody around, you can get through them really quickly.
posted by leo_r at 3:47 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I always figured that self checkout kiosks were designed to show the world just how hard cashier work really is. Same goes for the McDonald's self-ordering system.
posted by chavenet at 4:05 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I find small, low-stakes social interactions some of the worst in terms of social anxiety (e.g. I find saying hi to coworkers in the hall more anxiety-inducing than presenting to the CEO because I know what I'm meant to do when I present to the CEO but when I meet people in the hall I don't know how I'm mean to arrange my stupid face or what words I'm supposed to push out of my mouth hole at what pitch and I'm probably just going to make a weird noise anyway oh god please don't make eye contact). Low-scripted high-performance settings are basically terrible.

Buying groceries from a human is...okay, in that it's highly scripted, but it's also relatively performative and there's a ton that could go wrong. I could still say the worst thing that I have ever thought by accident, or fumble and drop all of my change everywhere, or otherwise have an awkward and unpleasant time. The fact that I will probably never see the person again doesn't help - it's not a game of "what did the cashier think of me", it's a game of "what did I do to reinforce every dreadful low-self-esteem belief I already had about myself and how I'm the awkwardest person alive and maybe my mother was right and I do walk like the Honey Monster".

And getting to do that whole transaction with a machine rather than a person takes just a tiny bit of that grinding weight off me for a little while. It's just easier. Even if I could deal with the situation with the person absolutely fine and it wouldn't even be that stressful, it's still worth the tiny little bonus stress break I get from not having to do the human interaction.

One of our local supermarkets took out its self checkout machines a year or so ago, and the marketing message they went with was all about how not having to interact with these dumb slow machines would massively improve our experience of the store as customers. Which I took to mean "we were too cheap to replace our ancient self checkout machines but we're gonna spin it as a benefit for you guys". Because forcing me to interact with a human when I previously had the option to avoid that is never going to improve my customer experience. And I swear that store hires only the surliest teens in town.
posted by terretu at 4:15 AM on October 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


The supermarket closest to us got rid of those infernal contraptions last year because they ended being more work for the staff than the normal human staffed lanes.
posted by octothorpe at 4:30 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


The big box we grocery shop at has a huge section of selfs, and the area is always open. Even at peak time, they only ever have about 6 or 7 (out of 14 or so) regular lanes, and they are always backed-up.

I use the regular lanes because they each employ a person. I'll use the selfs if I have only one or two little things, but otherwise it's always the regular lines for me.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


At King Soopers they switch to self-service-only at 10PM and condoms have to be authorized by a person

Why would condom purchases need manual staff override? I'm not aware of any laws that prohibit sales to under-aged people, unlike alcohol or tobacco. If anything, it should be easier for younger people to buy items to keep themselves safe while having fun.

I know some stores keep condoms in a locked cabinet to deter theft. However, requiring manual staff override doesn't make sense from a theft-prevention standpoint to me. By scanning condoms at the self-checkout counter, these shoppers have already declared their intention to pay for condoms, not slip them into their pocket.

I guess this practice jumped out at me because it smacks too much of certain stores' practices of limiting access to birth control.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 5:40 AM on October 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: condoms have to be authorized by a person
posted by Splunge at 6:01 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Don't tell the grocery stores, but I would pay a premium, if necessary, to only use self-checkouts.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:06 AM on October 23, 2016


"Unexpected item in bag"

NARRATOR: Was it ticking?
AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER: Actually throwers don't worry about ticking 'cause modern bombs don't tick.
NARRATOR: Sorry, throwers?
AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER: Baggage handlers. But, when a suitcase vibrates, then the throwers gotta call the police.
NARRATOR: My suitcase was vibrating?
AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER: Nine times out of ten it's an electric razor, but every once in a while... it's a dildo. Of course it's company policy never to imply ownership in the event of a dildo. Always use the indefinite article: a dildo, never your dildo.
posted by indubitable at 6:38 AM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


steady-state strawberry, please believe me when I say librarians are not judging your book choices. we buy the books to be read, and are thrilled you are using the library!
posted by mollymillions at 6:47 AM on October 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


Nerds are so into this avoid human interaction thing. Look, I can order my food/check into a hotel/buy groceries/get my boarding pass without interacting with ANYBODY! It's so awesome! Well you know what, screw that.

Humans are social creatures. It's good for us to interact, even in tiny little mostly-scripted moments. I think it's like getting out of chair and walking around a little bit, it's just good for us. At some point nerds are going to eliminate so many service jobs that you're going to sit alone in your apartment or hotel room and realize you haven't spoken to anybody for a week because there's no context to facilitate conversation anymore. You're not going to walk down the hall and knock on a random hotel room door just to start a conversation, are you?
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:59 AM on October 23, 2016 [13 favorites]


LastOfHisKind: It's good to interact, but sometimes you just don't want to. As long as it's an option, let me have my somewhat frustrating machine to interact with, especially when I just want to buy a quart of milk and go the hell home.
posted by SansPoint at 7:04 AM on October 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


Dealing with the frustrating machine instead of a human will not be optional.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:12 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to think how I'd end up sitting all alone for weeks once the machines take over mundane retail, and nope, I didn't meet any of my friends or acquaintes that I regularly see through retail, neither as a customer or employee.
posted by Dysk at 7:12 AM on October 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


In Southern California we have/had a chain called Fresh and Easy, they only have self checkouts. We had one right down the street, so it was our default store, and we used to rip on it every day for various reasons, mostly related to finding expired food in a store with 'Fresh' in the name.

They closed a year or so ago, and god do I miss that place. In and out in a couple of minutes, the checkout machines pretty much always worked, they inexplicably stocked lots of British candy and food, and their prices were really good. They always seemed to have a lot of employees running around, maybe that's why they didn't make it. Now we have an Aldi, which is a terrible, terrible place. I go out of my way for Trader Joes, where the cashiers are apparently required to ask you how your day is going, but other than that they're great.
posted by Huck500 at 7:18 AM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


One thing I'm not seeing much discussion of here is the hand-held self-scanners - they implemented those a few years back at our local market, and they are a great improvement over the 'self-checkout' system. You carry the scanner with you, and as you bag up your items (in your own bags, in the order/method that you choose), you scan them. Then, when you get to the register, you scan the handheld, pay, and scoot - so much faster than having to scan and repack everything there at the register. There is some random 'audit' percentage, which can be a pain, but it's not too frequent that it outweighs the convenience. The only improvement our store needs is to have a dedicated handheld scanner line - you can still get stuck with all of the self-checkout lines full of folks with huge carts of stuff. As much as I appreciate the 'make-work' of manual cashiers, grocery shopping is enough of a pain that I don't want to spend any more time there than needed.
posted by gadavis at 8:01 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hand held would be awesome. I'd use that.
posted by double bubble at 8:04 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Most of the annoying things about self check out are related to the anti theft features. I've always wondered if it was really worth it. Is the cost of such a complicated machine justified? Would it have been cheaper to just assume people are honest and have a more simple and less frustrating machine?
posted by double bubble at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Humans are social creatures.

No, you are a social creature. Your experience is by no means universal, and I wish that people like you would stop assuming that it is. If the hypothetical totality of my interactions in a week are limited to service workers who are required to make small talk with me, I'd rather just sit in silence, thanks.
posted by indubitable at 8:30 AM on October 23, 2016 [19 favorites]


The trick is to put your bag in the bagging area before you push a button or scan an item. When you do that, the scales tare out, ignoring anything already sitting there.

Like a turkey. Or a frozen turkey and a bunch of side dishes.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2016


I love self-check-outs and I always get pissed if a store doesn't have them. I don't need or want the tedium and anxiety of performing meaningless social scripts with a stranger. I don't need or want other people to judge my purchases as I lay them out on a belt for all to see. Don't look at me, don't talk to me, just let me pay for my shit and get out.
posted by a strong female character at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Humans are social creatures. It's good for us to interact, even in tiny little mostly-scripted moments.

NOPE. Nothing makes me feel lonelier than pretending to give a shit about a human who doesn't give a shit about me. Your experience is not everyone's experience. What's good for you is not good for everyone.
posted by a strong female character at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


If you weren't a social creature you wouldn't be commenting on Metafilter.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Commenting on metafilter != talking to a cashier at a grocery store.
posted by a strong female character at 9:07 AM on October 23, 2016 [11 favorites]


Also, my trick for paper bags or resuable bags is to scan something heavy like a milk as the first item, put the milk in the bag, and then put the bag on the scale, since the machine's uncertainty for something that heavy is big enough to mask the weight of a bag. Not sure if it would worth with bike panniers, though.
posted by ckape at 9:08 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's quite a bit of a jump from a proposition that getting up to walk is "good for us" to the proposition that having no choice but to enter into social interactions some find unpleasant is "good for us." Try putting a pebble in your shoe every time you decide to walk.
posted by cheburashka at 9:25 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Look, I can comment on Metafilter without interacting with ANYBODY! It's so awesome!
posted by flabdablet at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re people with disabilities: when I had a concussion and everything was difficult, trying to use a self checkout machine -- which I had to do once, when I couldn't find a cashier to help me -- was horribly frustrating. They are not made for the cognitively impaired.

(They also are not made for tall people. WTF, why am I trying to bag groceries that are at knee height?)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:53 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


My problem isn't the checking out itself at the grocery - it's the bagging. You scan, the groceries roll down the track, then you pay, and then you bag. I once had someone ahead of me who had lots of groceries, and I didn't realized he hadn't finished bagging when I started, so my stuff started tumbling into his. The man actually screamed at me. Now I wait - and hope the people behind me don't yell.
posted by AMyNameIs at 10:12 AM on October 23, 2016


One of the great things about being second or third shift was the sudden time-savings I got using the self checkout in the middle of the day. No longer would I be required to stand in line at one of the only two checkouts open, and wait while a harried mother corralled her brood and full-to-the-brim cart, or while a blue-haired matron dug around the bottom of her purse to find an errant coupon or coin. Nope, both types would shy away from the foreboding machines, leaving them open and I could ring up my five to ten items in seconds, and be on my merry way. Once I learned the mute function, I didn't even have to listen to the robo-voice instructions.

Now that I'm back on a "normal" shift, the customers are now more evenly split between savvy in-and-out shoppers like me and the aforementioned time-suck customers, which removes the time savings and I'll just stand in the shortest line, regardless of man or machine.

My real quibble with self checkout is why the stores don't specify indidual queues or a feeder queue. One feeder queue to four or so machines would make the whole system that more efferent! I've also noticed the stores have changed the express lane sign to "About 15 Items," which causes me to grind my teeth and realize that soon I'll be one of those grumpy time sucks myself. *sigh* What goes around...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


If no one is on line and there are free self-checkouts and I only have a handful of items, none of which are alcohol, that I'm not going to bother to put in a bag, self-checkouts are faster. Other than that, I avoid them like the plague.
posted by Automocar at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2016


From an economics perspective, it seems like the important question to ask is whether all the terribly flawed security measures are genuinely saving the company money or not. (Like nearly every physical security measure deployed in the world, my suspicion is that the answer is a decisive no.) I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that Planet Money didn't even bother to ask the question.

How much would a typical store lose if they disabled all the security features on kiosks? Does the difference pay for the stable of employees who constantly have to fix things, and the customers like me who will go out of their way not to return to a store with constantly annoying kiosks? Most customers would gladly and accurately throw their money into a honor-system bucket near the door. I suspect a significant portion of the rest are either smart enough to carry out their shenanigans before getting to the register, dumb enough that they'd be caught anyway, or crafty enough that using slight-of-hand to toss small and expensive items in among the bananas isn't a challenge. If that's true, then the invariably-broken scale costs the store money.

How much would a typical store lose if instead of hiring a cadre employees to enter magic reset codes three times during every customer transaction, they hired half as many employees and asked them to walk around the store and look for suspicious behavior? Is it a positive number?

How many shoplifters are caught at the register? How many shoppers go across the street and spend 50% more at Trader Joe's instead, 'because putting items into a backpack doesn't cause their entire checkout system to crash and burn?

The problem isn't that they're using the cheapest possible technology to solve hard problems, it's that the problems most likely don't actually need to be solved.
posted by eotvos at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


My favorite thing about self-checkout is how the robot voice changes once you swipe your Ralph's card. It's a pleasant, slightly chirpy female voice when you start the proceedings but once you swipe your rewards card, it shifts to the warm, breathy tone favored by actresses in late night phone sex commercials: "Wwwelcome valued cus-tom-er!"
posted by corey flood at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Howard Schneider is a hero in my book. What terretu said upthread about the impact they have in helping people with social anxiety has 100% been my experience as well.

The grocery store I shop at just expanded the number of self checkouts recently, thankfully. They keep 2-3 clerks nearby during busy store hours for assistance and theft prevention, and the layout is set up in a way that people can get in and out of the store much faster than they would without the self-checks. Without them they'd have room for maybe 4 express lanes, but they can fit 14 self checkout registers in the same space. Even if you don't like to use them yourself you can still appreciate that this greatly reduces the line time because people like me will always, always use a self-checkout when available.

Humans are social creatures. It's good for us to interact, even in tiny little mostly-scripted moments.
I wouldn't count a tiny awkward scripted small-talk encounter as social interaction. For some of us, these interactions are never anything but painful.
posted by girih knot at 11:57 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Most of the annoying things about self check out are related to the anti theft features. I've always wondered if it was really worth it. Is the cost of such a complicated machine justified? Would it have been cheaper to just assume people are honest and have a more simple and less frustrating machine?

Price Chopper is a major player in the Albany/Schenectady/Troy market, and not soon after the Clifton Park store experiment, they started rolling them out to other stores. One of which is in the student neighborhood.

So yeah, the way the kids would have gamed that system, the anti-theft bullshit is cheaper.
posted by mikelieman at 2:30 PM on October 23, 2016


The UI on self-checkouts is generally godawful. They don't provide feedback to indicate whether an action has registered. They're unaccountably slow. They lack consistency and coherent idioms. The search functionality is often ridiculous – yesterday, I tried to find "yellow squash", and the machine returned zero matches for "SQU" (I had to search for "YEL" instead). Believe me, I could go on.

Actually, with the notable exception of personal computing devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones), all UI is generally godawful. ATMs, gas pumps, microwaves, credit card pads – it seems like no one involved in the design of these things has even heard of usability.

I've never understood why this is the case. An intuitive UI would get people checked out out faster, keep lines shorter, require less manual intervention from human staff, and generally make customers' shopping experience more pleasant. When you consider everything that goes into designing a complete self-checkout system – how much could it possibly cost to get a competent UI developer? I just don't get it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:49 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Have heard (or maybe read somewhere) that people on EBT/food stamps use these machines to avoid negative comments and looks from cashiers and other customers. I think that's a good thing.

Walmart is going all-in on them. The new ones near me have machines with full conveyor belts, in addition to the small units meant for ringing up a few things.
posted by aerotive at 3:50 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


At the core of it, yeah we're social beings. But not all the time. I mean wolves are social beings, but they too want some alone time.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:13 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Most of the annoying things about self check out are related to the anti theft features. I've always wondered if it was really worth it. Is the cost of such a complicated machine justified? Would it have been cheaper to just assume people are honest and have a more simple and less frustrating machine?

Perhaps it's because I live in a very low crime area, but our supermarket (one of Australia's duopoly) simply turned off the scales. So the major theft deterrent has been disabled, thank goodness, since it was a major pain in the arse. Not sure if this was just a store policy or what, certainly the scales are still in operation in other stores owned by the same chain.
posted by wilful at 6:20 PM on October 23, 2016


Hello?

Is anybody there?

Could you come over here?

There you are!

Sentry mode activated
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 7:33 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Like Dysk mentioned above, self-checkouts are great for trans people who just don't want to have to deal with raised eyebrows and disgusted sighs and wrong pronouns. Being called "ma'am" when you're a "sir" can wreck your entire day. The only service workers I feel at ease interacting with are at my local coffee shop, because I've been going there for two years and they know my name. Anywhere else is just a crapshoot.
posted by AFABulous at 8:53 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've never really had an issue with the self-service checkouts. They almost always have a "Using your own bags?" button when you start now so they can account for using your own bags.

l also offer you this and this.

*clicks Post Comment*
UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE POSTING AREA
damnit
*clicks Post Comment*
UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE POSTING AREA
fucksake
*waits for a mod to come over and override the thing*
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:35 AM on October 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I used one of these for the first time Saturday night. I watched football late then realized I needed cat food and decided since I had to get that anyway, I would just get everything I needed. There were people checking out when I went in but by the time I went up front with a cart heaped full of stuff, it was self-checkout only. I'll never do it again. I was there over 20 minutes, had to wait on someone to come fix something 3 times and realized when I got home that it didn't give me credit for the coupons I scanned/dropped into the coupon slot. If I ever run into that issue again I'll just leave my cart full of crap and go home.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 5:48 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


As someone who usually goes to the grocery store frequently for just a few things, I love self-checkout because they let me get in and out without being stuck behind someone who appears to be either feeding a small army and/or prepping for the zombie apocalypse. The only problems I have with them are their negative impact on well-paying union jobs and when all the self-checkout stalls are being used by people WHO DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING OMG IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THESE USE THE REGULAR CHECKOUT; YOU ARE LITERALLY MURDERING ME BY TINY INCREMENTS
posted by entropicamericana at 8:17 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love the self-check stations but our Fred Meyer just switched to a new software in theirs and is terrrrrible. I've been using these for years, I'm quite familiar with how they work, but now I'm not sure if it's insanely sensitive or what but we now can't get out of there without a minimum of 7-8 "please remove the last item and scan it before placing it in the bag", when of course we've scanned it and added it. And when you're adding your empty bags to the scale before you start, if you take too long setting them up, the "are you using your own bags?" question times out and goes straight to demanding you remove items from scanner. It's turned a very smooth experience into an infuriating one.
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2016


Like Dysk mentioned above, self-checkouts are great for trans people who just don't want to have to deal with raised eyebrows and disgusted sighs and wrong pronouns. Being called "ma'am" when you're a "sir" can wreck your entire day.
Don't forget the reverse (which could also be quite appropriately titled The Reverse):
Trans person: (walks up to cashier)
Cashier: Good afternoon, [gendered title]
Trans person: Hallo/good afternoon/how's it goin'
Cashier: (horrified, loudly, broadcasting to the entire fucking store) Oh, I'm so sorry, [opposite gendered title], I thought -- I mean -- your clothes -- I thought you were -- !
But I guess we can just brush all that nonsense, and clinical anxiety too, under the general heading of "nerd"! That definitely works!!!! That is an evaluation worth espousing!!!!!!!!
posted by inconstant at 9:48 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why would condom purchases need manual staff override? I'm not aware of any laws that prohibit sales to under-aged people, unlike alcohol or tobacco. If anything, it should be easier for younger people to buy items to keep themselves safe while having fun.

The staff sometimes wonder the same thing out loud (if they're in the mood as I'm not weird about it at all and just laugh it off at the right moment); it's not an age thing like cigarettes where they enter your birthdate, but they are "falsely flagged" on purpose as having a security tag which they don't.

The condoms are on a shelf with a closed-circuit camera that gives off a two-part tone so you know you're being watched when you pick them up. That's the primary theft deterrence...it's definitely strange, like a committee shrugged their shoulders and agreed "yeah, people buying condoms through self-check-out should definitely be forced to involve someone else without sneaking through the store unscathed because, uhh..."
posted by aydeejones at 10:15 AM on October 24, 2016


assume people are honest

New to Earth, eh? :)
posted by Splunge at 10:24 AM on October 24, 2016


I once happened to notice somehow that I was being overcharged for a dozen bagels while using a self-checkout. Why? Because choosing "Bagels" quantity 12 is more expensive than choosing "Dozen Bagels" from the menu. Naturally, you had to search "DOZEN" for that option to come up, and who would ever think to do that?
posted by zachlipton at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wonder if some of the other stores using the same system actually are putting a security tag on the condoms. That would still be annoying, but it at least would make some kind of sense as a shoplift prevention method. That particular store doesn't bother putting the tags on, (or maybe they used to, but stopped) but nobody who works there knows how or is authorized to stop the system from demanding that the non-existent tags get removed.
posted by RobotHero at 11:56 AM on October 24, 2016


Which is making me consider the interface from the other end. Someone has to add new products and set their prices, and what special properties they have. (Security tags, do you get a discount for buying a dozen? etc.) Does this have to tie into some legacy inventory system?
posted by RobotHero at 12:07 PM on October 24, 2016


Look, I can comment on Metafilter without interacting with ANYBODY! It's so awesome!

"I" is the only real consciousness here. You are all figments of the theorique imagination!
posted by theorique at 1:24 PM on October 24, 2016


This entity disagrees.
posted by Splunge at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2016


Not only am I not a social being, I am not a sentient being either. Stop ascribing things to humans that don't apply to me dammit!
posted by some loser at 5:36 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


This thread has completely convinced me that there is a world of difference between either the self-checkouts themselves, or just the general public's ability to use them between the UK and US.
posted by Dysk at 1:58 AM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I still don't know what to do here in Australia at the self-checkout if I have more than one bag's worth of groceries. So now I just look for the nice lady who has been a cashier for like a hundred years and processes things at the speed of light. She seems to work 24-hour shifts, she's always there.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:20 AM on October 25, 2016




I don't care if the self-checkout is empty and the single human-staffed lane has 20 people in line with full carts. I'm not doing the store's job (tabulating and charging my purchases) for free, and that is the hill I choose to die on.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 6:50 AM on October 25, 2016


I'm not doing the store's job (tabulating and charging my purchases) for free

Okay, so I am till trained, but is it really any easier to throw all your groceries on to a belt and then take them off a belt and bag them than it is to whiz them past a scanner into a bag?

Meanwhile, I'm not doing a customer/cashier interaction voluntarily unless I'm getting paid.
posted by Dysk at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2016


It would be great if you could whiz your items past the scanner into a bag but it never seems to work that way. The systems always get upset if you work too quickly and yell at you that they haven't registered the weight of the scanned items on the belt yet. To make it work, you have to scan something, drop it on the belt and then count to five before scanning the next thing or risk locking the system up and having to flag down an employee to unlock it again.
posted by octothorpe at 10:52 AM on October 25, 2016


Dysk, the reason why it works better in the UK than the US is that over here, we're busy fumbling with our guns while we try to scan things.
posted by AFABulous at 11:50 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


It would be great if you could whiz your items past the scanner into a bag but it never seems to work that way.

Okay, it's definitely a tech difference between the UK and US then. That shit Just Works over here.
posted by Dysk at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2016


"...only the surliest teens in town."

My new Wheatus/Ween mashup band.
posted by Evilspork at 5:58 PM on October 26, 2016


Okay, it's definitely a tech difference between the UK and US then. That shit Just Works over here.

I'm in the US and it honestly sounds like a PEBKAC problem to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:02 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


That'd be a feat for a scenario that involves neither a chair not a keyboard.

Wait, you're trying to say it was the engineers designing and programming it, right? That's probably the last time a chair and keyboard were involved with the self-checkout.
posted by Dysk at 3:11 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


PEBTAG

(... Touchscreen And Groceries)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:46 AM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


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