Shitty Automation
March 7, 2019 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Why Self-Checkout Is and Has Always Been the Worst For every automated appliance or system that actually makes performing a task easier—dishwashers, ATMs, robotic factory arms, say—there seems to be another one—self-checkout kiosks, automated phone menus, mass email marketing—that actively makes our lives worse. I’ve taken to calling this second category, simply, shitty automation. posted by box (166 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love self check out kiosks. I can finally buy groceries without bothering anyone. It is amazing.

When someone invents an auto hair stylist I’ll be able to get through a whole month without bothering anyone at all.
posted by vocivi at 2:05 PM on March 7 [80 favorites]


Cool history, but it seems like it was written in the past, because self-service stations are being added to every store in my area and they are just as busy as ones with cashiers. The old versions had the 'unexpected item in the bagging area' message constantly, but newer ones seem fine.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:10 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


Also I think supermarkets understand the amount of theft they have quite well, so if they are tabulating the value of a self-service station, they most assuredly are taking that into account.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:11 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


yea, was kinda surprised to see the writer spew such vehement dislike of self-checkout kiosks. I've personally never had a problem with them - I can avoid longer lines and I don't need to interact / make small talk with a human if I don't want to. If the writer wanted to snipe about automated processes I can think of many other things he could have written about.
posted by aielen at 2:12 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


Self-checkout almost never has a line (I'm in an area which skews older and the old people avoid them.) I can pack the bags exactly how I want. I have semi-privacy (at least of the face-to-face variety) regarding what I'm buying. On those days when I'm extremely introverted, I don't have to talk to anyone.

If it wasn't for costing workers hours and jobs, I'd probably love self-checkout unconditionally.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 2:13 PM on March 7 [60 favorites]


I am personally not a fan of self-checkout, though I understand why some people are. What I don't buy is the argument that it isn't reducing total headcount at participating establishments. The argument usually goes "but people still need to tend to the machines" which, yes, they do, but that is not a full-time position at one store. One self-checkout tech can service multiple locations, and given that machines probably don't break every day, potentially a large geographical area. What I've seen, in practice, is that places w/ self-checkout have reduced checkout staff who double as ersatz technical support for hapless consumers who don't know how to use the automated checkout machines.

Now, in all likelihood this will become a solved problem in time - clearly Amazon thinks so. I would be shocked, though, if every single company implementing self-checkout isn't doing it with an eye on reducing labor costs.

Add to that that it decreases incidental human contact and socialization, which again some people are totally happy about, but I am not.

Boo automated checkout.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:14 PM on March 7 [40 favorites]


oh. So it turns out the writer's schtick is writing about big scary automated machines stealing human jobs. Things make more sense now.
posted by aielen at 2:14 PM on March 7 [16 favorites]


"Self-checkout" being lumped in the same general category as "automation" and even "AI" seems to be...somewhat inaccurate. "Automation" is by definition something that gets done without human input, or, at least, very minimal input. Self-checkout is literally the human doing the entire thing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:15 PM on March 7 [16 favorites]


Also for the record I am very happy with self-checkout, I'm just not happy with the people in front of me using the self-checkout. And if you are using self-checkout to do an entire trolley load of shopping, you are a jerk.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:16 PM on March 7 [24 favorites]


I love self-checkout. I love being able to bag things the way that makes sense for me when I'm unloading. I love that I have giant reusable bags and they actually get filled, where as when I check out with a line, they are usually underfilled to match standard bag capacities. I love being able to check that my things are charging the way they should be instead of flying by at professional checker speeds. It sucks that they kill jobs, and I get that they are probably not as fast as real checkers/baggers would be. But I love them. I'm really looking forward to my Kroger becoming one of the stores that supports the scan as you go app, where you scan them while you're pulling from the shelves and pay without having to scan them again at the door.

The history is kind of interesting, where grocery stores started as someone pulling things from shelves for you. We're getting back to that structure with online ordering and pickup. I usually am sharing my grocery store with several of the big rolling carts that are loading up online orders for pickup.
posted by msbutah at 2:21 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


I used to be very anti self-checkout, I would make a point of using a cashier because, like the author, I resented the additional labor being placed on me without a commensurate reduction in my costs.

But then I realized how bad, quite frankly, the cashiers at my local supermarket are at their jobs.
Between the glacial scanning rate and bizarre bag packing, it is quicker and easier to do it myself, despite the occasional need for intervention.
posted by madajb at 2:21 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]


Now, if only we could get Target to understand that I'm in the self checkout to avoid employees.
Having one sneak up behind every customer with an offer for a credit card is an awful "innovation".
posted by madajb at 2:23 PM on March 7 [22 favorites]


And if you are using self-checkout to do an entire trolley load of shopping, you are a jerk.

Just can’t win. Now I’ll wonder if I have too many groceries for self checkout every time I shop.
posted by vocivi at 2:23 PM on March 7 [16 favorites]


Perhaps there is significant variation in the quality of the machines?

I have to admit I strongly prefer self-checkout, because its usually faster (though where I shop there's usually somewhat of a line for both), I don't have to interact, and can easily pack my reusable bags the way I want.

However, there's also a significant difference between the some of the early implementers (looking at you Safeway) where the machines yell at you, have a bad UI and are oversensitive to weight changes. Those stores that have implemented self check-out recently work really well, and have made smart design choices (e.g. the machine makes no noise at all). If you have a ton of produce or bulk item or a large volume of items, it still makes sense to go through the till, but otherwise you can buy a few things quickly at the self check-out.

Where automation works well for everyone, I have a hard time with the argument that we should oppose it for the sake of jobs. It just seems to me that there's got to be a better way - almost certainly involving the government. I realize its not going work everywhere though.
posted by lookoutbelow at 2:25 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


They took them out of the supermarket closest to my house, I assume because they created more work than they saved since they were always blinking for attention from the manager. I'll use them at Target but the supermarket ones never seem to work right and somehow I always manage to get the machine upset and have to have the manager come over and fix things.
posted by octothorpe at 2:25 PM on March 7


I prefer self check out systems (they are so much faster), though I admit it will be nice when the various systems settle on the same procedures. They can't even seem to do that with debit and credit card readers at regular check out yet though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:25 PM on March 7


Eventually there won't be a sufficient number of people with enough money to buy things in stores and the problem will solve itself.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:26 PM on March 7 [26 favorites]


And if you are using self-checkout to do an entire trolley load of shopping, you are a jerk.

Around here we have full-size self checkout with a regular size belt and bagging area.
They aren't as common as they should be, but when they exist, the attendants will redirect you if you have more than an express lane amount of items.
posted by madajb at 2:27 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Perhaps checkout should be a social, contemplative event... but no, I just care about speed. Self-checkout is great if I have half a dozen items, especially since there's often no line. Human cashiers are faster if the cart is more full.

Under fully automated gay space communism, we'd probably want self-checkout anyway; cashiering is a tedious job and the cashiers would probably prefer to work on their novels.
posted by zompist at 2:27 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


I pretty much avoid self-checkouts. I've shopped at the same very large supermarket for about 18 years now. It used to have staffed checkouts throughout. They were fast, efficient, and you got a chance to interact with someone, something I think we should all do from time to time.

Gradually more and more self-checkouts appeared. There are now only 3 or 4 human-operated checkouts, more often than not closed. The only people I see on the way out are a couple of bored-looking security guards. For me it's not so much the inconvenience (although it does take me considerably longer to scan my own groceries) as the fact that a place that was once a bustling workplace seems to have entirely emptied out, apart from a few teenagers and de-retired people stacking shelves. I used to enjoy being in there amid all the banter of the staff and the general busyness. The place just seems a bit sterile now. I liked it before.
posted by pipeski at 2:30 PM on March 7 [21 favorites]


I use self checkouts. I'm sensitive to the worry about job losses. But also, chain grocery store clerk positions are not necessarily known for being the sort of good jobs that you could, eg., support a family on, with health care and other benefits and consistent scheduling with decent hours?

The real answer is fully automated luxury space communism.
posted by eviemath at 2:30 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


The self-checkout systems at the stores near me (tm) seem to be pretty on the ball. I prefer using them because, well, I did plenty of time in cashier jobs and I can ring myself up just as fast, especially if I'm buying something that's rather on the personal side.

Also, mass email marketing is highly manual! Maybe not the actual sending-out of the email, but basically everything that goes into building the email, hoo boy. Very high maintenance. So that one is kind of an odd item to include.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:32 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


If self-checkouts bother you and you're looking for someone to blame for them, you can literally blame Canada, or at least Howard Schneider.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:33 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Besides, even if we don't have people at cash registers, we still need people stocking shelves, checking for broken/misplaced items, returns, portioning things at the deli, bakers, cart retrievers...there's tons of jobs in a grocery store besides ringing people out.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:33 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


90% of my food shopping is at Trader Joe's these days which doesn't have automated checkout so I don't have to deal with it.
posted by octothorpe at 2:34 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


This article doesn't spend nearly enough time on the fact that, even for the alert and able-bodied, the self-checkout is a usability apocalypse. My personal favourite is when it pleasantly requests that you select a payment type and then you put your card into the reader and it goes "NO YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR CARD INTO THE READER YET, FIRST YOU NEED TO SELECT THE PAYMENT TYPE!"

This is called a Simon Says User Interface. The machine knows exactly what you want to do and admits to your face that it has all the information necessary to proceed with what you want to do. But it won't do it until you ask in the correct way.
posted by qntm at 2:39 PM on March 7 [81 favorites]


Self checkouts are the best. Sometimes I can't face shaving or brushing my hair or being in any way presentable. I still need to eat though, so being able to get groceries without facing anyone in that state is a godsend.
posted by Dysk at 2:39 PM on March 7 [11 favorites]


In my area we have two grocery stores, a "traditional" store (Giant) and a "Euro-style" one (Aldi). Aldi is all about cutting unnecessary costs. Interestingly, they don't have self-checkout machines—but Giant does.

Apparently—and I'm pretty confident that the people at Aldi are crunching the numbers on this, because everything else in the store gives the impression that it's been min-maxed to hell and back—self checkout machines aren't cost effective compared to the German-style* manned checkout. But they are when compared to a traditional US-style manned checkout.

Either way (with the self-checkout or the German-style checkout) there are fewer employees working at the front of the store, and customers end up doing some of the work that the employee would have done, themselves. But the headcount reduction happens regardless. In the absence of self-checkouts, I suspect that Giant would be pushed over time to adopt the Aldi-style checkout model.

In other words, this isn't an "automation" thing. I think it's a consumer-preference thing. Customers don't care about having someone bag their groceries, as evidenced by their use of both Euro-style grocery stores (one of the only growing segments in the grocery business) and self checkouts. They're willing to trade away that 'service' for either lower prices or shorter lines. As a result, I think the traditional cashier is doomed, except in markets where there are enough stodgy people who want every 3 items bagged for them individually, and are willing to pay for it.

I don't know if there's a formal name for this, but it seems like a parallel to full-service gas station attendants is not unreasonable. "Full service" used to be the norm, then it became an option, and then it disappeared in all but a few places where it's legally required as a poorly-disguised makework jobs program.

This isn't a bad thing overall, since it's what you'd expect if real wages are climbing. (Industries that can't increase productivity or decrease headcount as real wages increase, e.g. healthcare and education, are prone to Baumol's Cost Disease.) It's probably within the realm of reasonable government regulation to ensure it doesn't happen so quickly that it's socially disruptive, but trying to stop it entirely is probably a serious mistake.

* For those unfamiliar, the checkout clerks at Aldi sit (rather than stand, as is typical at US checkouts) and very quickly swipe items across the laser-scanner, from one cart into an extra cart placed on the 'exit' side. Once they have scanned all your items, they handle payment and give you the receipt, plus a death glare if you don't get the message to get the fuck out of the way, and it's on to the next customer. They do not bag groceries; that's the customer's problem. They are easily twice as fast as the cashiers at a traditionally-designed US grocery store.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:40 PM on March 7 [17 favorites]


I like self checkout because scanning stuff is cool. It goes ding and everything. I can flip the cookie dough like I'm Tom Cruise in Cocktail and do a spin when I'm bagging milk. Then I get to swipe my credit card (also cool) and tear off the receipt (cool the third).

Inserting the chip card is less cool than swiping, though. The experience has taken a step backwards.
posted by BeeDo at 2:41 PM on March 7 [21 favorites]


I’ll use the self checkout if I’m just running in real quick to grab a bag of peas or something. Otherwise, I’ll use a cashier simply because I want to support someone with a job. My local markets make it pretty difficult, though, when they only have one or two cashier-checkout lines open (out of about twenty) Because of that, in my market, the line for the self-checkout is often just as long as the cashier lines, mostly because the store refuses to open enough cashier lanes to handle the volume of customers.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I'm cool with both but there are advantages, clerk keyed in the cheap mushrooms the other day and when I got home discovered I got a 75% discount (75 cents;-)
posted by sammyo at 2:47 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I don't use self checkout. Until we get Universal basic income, and/or real jobs for non finance majors, I will continue to bring my custom to other humans.
posted by evilDoug at 2:49 PM on March 7 [19 favorites]


The butmuhjerbs argument against self-checkout is in fact an argument for UBI.

I'm not convinced its doable but automating a job that basically keeps people in poverty while giving them repetitive stress injuries until the company downsizes them with no recourse is not a tragedy.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:50 PM on March 7 [36 favorites]


The Banana Trick and Other Acts of .....

TIL the editors of the Atlantic are on a different Internet than I am.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:51 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I used to hate self-checkouts. Lately, however, I've been visiting a Target that's on a college campus. It's all self-checkout except for one register that's more like the returns and service counter. Everything flows by so quickly! It turns out both that there's a huge difference in checkout machine quality, and in the skill of customers using them. The Tide Pod generation really knows how to use those things to maximum efficiency.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:51 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]


turbid dahlia: And if you are using self-checkout to do an entire trolley load of shopping, you are a jerk.

Depends on how efficient you are, and what time of day it is. If you're fumbling around at a peak time, then yes, you're slowing things down, where a checkout person can get you through significantly faster. But if you load your cart with a plan on un-loading and re-loading it, it can be not much different than a checkout person.

And a protip: after some time, the scale forgets what was put on it, so you can take off your bags after a bit, instead of trying to precariously balance them all on there. A store clerk told me this, as I tried to squeeze too much on the scale.


In my area we have two grocery stores, a "traditional" store (Giant) and a "Euro-style" one (Aldi). Aldi is all about cutting unnecessary costs. Interestingly, they don't have self-checkout machines—but Giant does.

Counter anecdote: in the US, we have two "traditional" stores, Albertsons and Smiths/Kroegers, and the discount, Walmart. Albertsons tried to squeeze a few more check-out stalls in with a weird new configuration, but they're all still operated by an employee. Kroegers and Walmart both have self-check stations, with different layouts but similar employee/checkout station ratios (1 person per 8 stations, I think).

From the bonus link:
Whether out of social responsibility or frustration with shrinkage, some retailers, including Albertsons, Big Y Supermarket, Pavilions, and Vons, have scaled back or eliminated self-scanning, at least in some stores.
So it seems that “external shrinkage” isn't well factored into employee cost-savings, unless there's some notion that they're "better neighbors" by having fully staffed checkout stations.


I'm cool with both but there are advantages, clerk keyed in the cheap mushrooms the other day and when I got home discovered I got a 75% discount (75 cents;-)

You can also get similar ... discounts ... if you do the checking out yourself. From the bonus link: “Anyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self checkout is a total moron,” reads one of the more militant comments in a Reddit discussion on the subject.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]




I'm not convinced its doable but automating a job that basically keeps people in poverty while giving them repetitive stress injuries until the company downsizes them with no recourse is not a tragedy.

I dunno. Eating is important even when you're impoverished. Even better if you're working enough for healthcare, as I have before.
posted by avalonian at 2:58 PM on March 7 [17 favorites]


snuffleupagus: "The butmuhjerbs argument against self-checkout is in fact an argument for UBI.

I'm not convinced its doable but automating a job that basically keeps people in poverty while giving them repetitive stress injuries until the company downsizes them with no recourse is not a tragedy.
"

It is if that's your only job.
posted by octothorpe at 3:04 PM on March 7 [27 favorites]


This article doesn't spend nearly enough time on the fact that, even for the alert and able-bodied, the self-checkout is a usability apocalypse. My personal favourite is when it pleasantly requests that you select a payment type and then you put your card into the reader and it goes "NO YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR CARD INTO THE READER YET, FIRST YOU NEED TO SELECT THE PAYMENT TYPE!"

And that's the best case. A lot of them seem to be designed around the premise that someone trying to pay before selecting their payment type is such a vanishingly small possibility that it needn't even be handled explicitly, so they get into some invalid state and then the cashier has to come over and reset everything.
posted by invitapriore at 3:04 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


Just can’t win. Now I’ll wonder if I have too many groceries for self checkout every time I shop.

The store I go to (Meijer in Michigan) has an item limit on the self-checkouts anyway, so I need to have an idea of that before I even get in line for one.

I'll use them if I'm just getting a few things, don't have a ton of bulk produce to weigh, and I'm not buying anything that absolutely requires cashier input to the system (like alcohol) because waiting for the one person manning 8 self-checkouts to approve me isn't really helping anybody get out of the store faster. The ones at Meijer do the job pretty well - they seem to have eliminated the annoying before/after scale systems that earlier versions at other stores were using, so I can just walk up and start scanning without unloading everything onto the before scale. There's still an after scale and it knows whether you've put anything you've scanned on that or not. Generally they're useful (or not) depending on the situation.
posted by LionIndex at 3:04 PM on March 7


Depends on how efficient you are, and what time of day it is.

That's true, I was being overly harsh. We don't have conveyor belt self-checkouts here in Australia (not that I've seen, anyway), it's just a little scanning station with room enough for one basket to be placed, and one reusable shopping bag to be filled. The self-checkout aisles are not really designed to have trolleys backed up in them, because it's pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder.

Thing is, you can't really efficiently unload-and-scan the stuff from your shopping trolley, fill a single shopping bag, and then put the filled bag back in the shopping trolley, and then do another bag, etc. It just doesn't work. It results in extensive futzing and fumbling, the trolley is in the way of everybody else, and it just generally sucks and is annoying and frustrating to watch.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:05 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Love them. Miss having them at Walgreens, they sped up my checkout time by easily 10 min. But Target needs to keep a designated line open with a checkout clerk over 21 instead of having that person float to cover all lanes, automated and regular. It slows everything up a LOT.
posted by agregoli at 3:10 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I’m on the fence about self-checkout. We had them locally for a bummer of years, but they’ve been removed, purportedly because the clientele was “cheating” with them.

The one facet of serve-yourself culture I can do without is self-service soda fountains at McDonald’s, et al. They are just too chaotic for me and don’t actually provide enough additional value to make up for that unpleasantness.
posted by hwestiii at 3:11 PM on March 7


As a 6'8" man who spent a decade being a cashier until shortly after being hospitalized for sciatica halfway through a shift, the only thing worse than the ergonomics of regular registers is the ergonomics of self-checkout stations.
posted by Earthtopus at 3:12 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


Given that cashiers are union here in CA, I'm not surprised that all the big chains want to push them through and reduce union costs.

I do a mix of self-checkout and cashier checkout based on speed, items, lines, etc. CA also has laws about no alcohol, tobacco or gift cards,etc. at self-checkout that forces moves.

But I often stress to my engineers to thihnk about Self-Checkout as an example of somethihng simple made horrid and unusable. (And also the general inability of the public to understand your precious UI)
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:17 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]




Incessant, erroneous repetitions of “please place your item in the bag” and “unknown item in the bagging area”

This is exactly why I hate self-checkout. My experience of it is ALWAYS like the author's. I am flabbergasted so many of you can actually successfully use it without having to call a human over. It reacts poorly if you don't have a bag or don't want to use a bag or only have one damn item. Fuck this shit. This isn't worth it. It's faster just having a human do it, plus I don't feel awful for doing someone out of a job, even a crap job.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:23 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


The Banana Trick and Other Acts of .....

TIL the editors of the Atlantic are on a different Internet than I am.


Parent: "What's this 'Banana Trick' thing?"

Teen: "um...it's, uh, when you take the bar code of a bunch of bananas and put it on something else. Some people do that. No, of course I wouldn't."
posted by straight at 3:23 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Until I can buy beer in a self-checkout this is a nonstarter.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:28 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Jenfullmoon, there is a great deal of variation between machines...some are far better than others.
posted by agregoli at 3:28 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


"Bilbo was surprised to wake one morning and find a Tesco had been built next to his house. It was an unexpected item in the Baggins area."
posted by bendy at 3:29 PM on March 7 [72 favorites]


I mean, I have some sympathy towards cashiers, because I was one (and also an assistant manager) at a grocery store for a few years. It's not a great job, and I get that.

However: 95% of the time, I use self checkout.

For one thing, it is just vastly faster. I value my time too much to think that waiting an extra 10 minutes to avoid doing a tiny bit of extra work is a good trade-off.

For another thing, being honest, I am kinda antisocial. I really don't like interacting with people if I can avoid it.

To top it all off, even if I do go through the normal lane, I end up bagging my own stuff because (a) I bring my own bags and (b) I arrange my stuff on the belt so that it's organized to keep things that go together grouped up and yet (c) grocery store employees almost without fail make the most insane decisions if I let them bag my stuff. Detergent plus produce in a bag? Dry goods in the cold bag? Bread under cans? What the fuck people? Consequently, the normal lane saves me zero work and takes much longer.

Kinda baffled at the comments on usability; I'm not saying the things are designed well (they're not, they're clunky as shit), but I feel like the majority of the big issues were worked out years back. Now they're still unpleasant but at least generally work without intervention from an employee.
posted by tocts at 3:32 PM on March 7 [11 favorites]


I use them but strongly dislike them.

The way I figure it, in the Before Time it takes you X minutes to check out and leave. Then they put in the self-checkout and leave a bunch of checkout aisles unstaffed, so the one or two left open have really long lines. At the end of the day it still takes you X minutes to check out, except now you're volunteering your labor to the shareholders of Tops or Publix or whoever.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:36 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Then they put in the self-checkout and leave a bunch of checkout aisles unstaffed, so the one or two left open have really long lines.

Right, this is the main reason I use the self-checkout at all.
posted by LionIndex at 3:38 PM on March 7


“Shitomation” was right there. Come on, man.
posted by No-sword at 3:42 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Didn't realize checkout was a union job in CA. That's a wrinkle.

I am not in favor of people losing jobs without alternatives (which I why I was connecting it to UBI). I am in favor of this being one of the jobs we come up with alternatives to.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:44 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about the self-checkouts is you can see first-hand the employee hitting the "VISIBLY OVER 25" button when you buy alcohol. Rude.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:44 PM on March 7 [32 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to people losing their jobs, but my observation is that the stores had already cut the cashiers back. Self check means instead of 1.5 lanes opening, there is now 5.
posted by florencetnoa at 3:49 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the critical piece of information missing from the Australian experience of self checkouts is that most of them are crammed into a very small amount of space, with little to no room for a trolley. They're express bays, basically. The further out into the suburbs you get the more space remains dedicated to manned checkouts. Different efficiencies for different demographics. You're a total arse here if you take a full trolley into the self checkout area.

Pretty much all self checkouts over here don't check weight any more. It's a gamechanger, ditching that stupid piece of the process.

My local supermarket is an inner suburban one, so we have best of both worlds. They took out three checkout lanes and the four compact express lanes - the latter generally only fully staffed at peak afternoon periods and lunchtimes. So 4 to 7 employees. They've replaced them with about fifteen self check bays, and a service desk that incorporates four express checkouts in addition to service desk tasks. There's usually a minumum of two people working service, plus an attendant at the self checkout. At peak it's 5 in at the service desk and 2 on the self check. It hasn't really reduced staffing levels at all, but they're a hell of a lot more efficient and it's a better use of space. There's always at least one of the manned checkouts staffed and all four remaining manned checkouts will be working during peak. It's a small but very busy supermarket so they're really working their efficiencies.

I like both - if there's enough to need a trolley I'll use a manned checkout, if it's only a few things I'll dash through the self checkout.
posted by Jilder at 3:52 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about the self-checkouts is you can see first-hand the employee hitting the "VISIBLY OVER 25" button when you buy alcohol. Rude.

VISIBLY MIFFED
posted by avalonian at 3:55 PM on March 7 [15 favorites]


Never seen that. Usually the cashier will take my ID and key in the birthdate plus some other codes. I'm in Chicago, if that matters.
posted by agregoli at 4:03 PM on March 7


The post is bad and the author should feel bad for his generalisations. Even with the admittedly shitty state of self-checkout software and hardware, I almost always prefer them because the queues are much shorter and I find the scanning and packing process to be quietly satisfying.

While improvements in self-checkouts are slow and halting, they do happen and I’m sure we’ll see better barcode scanners and optical product recognition in the future.
posted by adrianhon at 4:04 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


The only thing I don't like about self-checkout is that about 5 seconds after I've completed payment the Disembodied Voice starts bleating at me to remove my items from the bagging area. Yeah yeah yeah, gimme a f&%$*ing minute, sheesh.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:08 PM on March 7 [23 favorites]


Hi-- work in retail! Although I work in a mostly full employment market so the economics could be different from where you are.

Being a cashier is really not a lot of fun at all-- it's high stress and hard to find people; many coworkers really are afraid of making mistakes with cash and coming up short. Even with no consequences, I've comforted crying young women who have somehow given out a few bucks more change than they should, because they are nice people who want to do the right thing. At least in our market, we have plenty of vacancies for jobs which are much more interesting for coworkers, but we need to prioritise cashiers because we don't want people to wait in a really really long line.

I'm really happy our customers are starting to prefer self-checkout and while I'm sure that there are evil empires who just want to reduce labor cost, that isn't my experience from 15 years of retail. I'm just not sure this is the battle you want to fight in terms of jobs. The disruption from eCommerce on retail has a far bigger impact as more and more sales move online and GFA for retail shrinks in every market. You know which jobs really suck? eCommerce picking jobs, that's what...
posted by frumiousb at 4:10 PM on March 7 [37 favorites]


Very well, self-checkout lines for some, miniature American flags for others.

I think we can all agree on one thing, though: That Guy who is in line behind you at the self-checkout, and you've just finished scanning and paying for your 15 things, and now you have to go to the other end of the conveyor belt and put them into bags, because this is self-checkout, and ain't nobody gonna bag your groceries for you at self-checkout, but dude behind you is in a huge rush and terribly self-important, so he starts scanning things IMMEDIATELY, like before you even open your first bag, and then his Axe body spray and Hungry Man frozen dinners come rolling down the conveyor belt and intermingling with your groceries: FUCK that guy.
posted by Mayor West at 4:10 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


This article doesn't spend nearly enough time on the fact that, even for the alert and able-bodied, the self-checkout is a usability apocalypse. My personal favourite is when it pleasantly requests that you select a payment type and then you put your card into the reader and it goes "NO YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR CARD INTO THE READER YET, FIRST YOU NEED TO SELECT THE PAYMENT TYPE!"

I use cash more often than not. On the self-checks I’ve used, none of the ports for insterting and receiving cash are remotely near each other. You insert bills up here. Insert coins just over there. If you get change, the bills are dispensed way over there, and coins are dumped out way down here.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:17 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Even with no consequences, I've comforted crying young women who have somehow given out a few bucks more change than they should, because they are nice people who want to do the right thing.

That's not even the worst of it, my worst worries were giving out too little change. I mean, the mega-corporation supermarket can afford to lose a few dollars here and there, then I get yelled at by my supervisor, so, fine. Sometimes I end up with too much money at the end of my shift and go, crap. Or even worse, people leave without their groceries sometimes... the worst is when they buy a mobile phone prepaid voucher for like $100, and the stupid thing prints as a second piece of paper AFTER their receipt, so in the rush there's been more than one time where I've grabbed the receipt and given it to them and they rush off, and then the next customer is already impatiently shoving their groceries in my face, and in that split second the first customer has already vanished into the rush hour crowd and I'm left there with a $100 phone recharge voucher slowly printing from the machine and I'm silently swearing at myself while trying to smile.

We were benchmarked on scanning speed, everyone's average scan time per item was posted up in the staff room.

I hear that Aldi targets an average scan time of 2 seconds per item, but they didn't need to bag the groceries like we did. And they get to sit down. Everyone at the two major supermarkets have to stand for their entire shift.
posted by xdvesper at 4:19 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


Just wait, Thorzdad until they remove the cash option entirely from the self-checkout kiosks. They've started to do that around these parts and now machines that you used to be able to pay cash at are debit/credit only. This is particularly annoying when the store has four or five self-checkouts sitting empty and one cashier with a line-up six or seven deep because everybody (myself included) is paying cash.
posted by sardonyx at 4:28 PM on March 7


I work in retail. I'm trailer trash and I need a job. I can't get the jobs a lot of you guys have. I make 20k a year, and it's more than I ever expected to make in my life. It's really easy to talk about how horrible retail jobs are and good riddance, but if you think the country that voted for Donald fucking Trump is going to give me UBI, you need a reality check.

Don't feel bad about using the self-checkout-- it has nothing to do with your choices, and everything to do with corporate greed. But be real. Don't lie to yourself, and please don't tell me that it's good for me-- or that it's good for the huge number of cashiers that we used to employ who no longer have jobs.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 4:36 PM on March 7 [104 favorites]


ain't nobody gonna bag your groceries for you at self-checkout

In my neck of the woods, ain't nobody gonna bag your groceries, period.
Baggers went the way of the dodo long before self-checkout showed up.
posted by madajb at 4:44 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


I spent a lot of time working various tills and cashes in order to pay my way through school. As a result, I tend to go to the cashier more than the self-checkouts (although I use them as well, depending on circumstances).

I can say that working cash is not a glamorous job (and there certainly are bad parts), but they were jobs I was thankful to have. I always believe we should pay people more and pay people living wages, but there are certainly harder and worse ways to make money, even if it's not a lot of money (unless you can get one of the union gigs).

Anybody who poo-poos these types of jobs and says it's a good thing they're going is speaking from a place of advantage.
posted by sardonyx at 4:45 PM on March 7 [26 favorites]


My local Stop and Shop has the best self checkout system I've encountered: Instead of scanning everything at the counter, you get a little hand-held scanner at the door. As you shop, you scan your groceries. If you have reusable shopping bags, since you can just bag the groceries as you shop too. Then when you're done shopping, you take your scanner to a self checkout, scan the barcode from the handheld scanner, and the checkout imports the list of scanned groceries and takes your money. No "unexpected item in the bagging area" prompts, no waiting, no awkwardly bagging your groceries while someone else starts to scan theirs.

The only place the system falls apart is produce, since you either have to weigh that at the self checkout or use a scale in produce area that prints out a sticker.

It's otherwise a great system, and significantly more efficient than a regular checkout.
posted by JDHarper at 4:48 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


Pour one out for the self-order kiosks at fast food restaurants. I can finally order in confidence that the order is put correctly into the system. Before, my "correct order" rate was maybe 70%. And they're also able to use my coupons without a fuss/confusion. They are a damn godsend for the customer.
posted by hexaflexagon at 4:48 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


Self-checkout: “An ordinary barcode has somehow stumped my interface. Please wait. Human help is on the way.” (Human has to deal with the other dozen malfunctioning self-checkouts first. Self checkout goes into suspended animation until help arrives.)

Human checker: “Mmmm, pasta. Must be cheat day on your diet, huh? I mean you’re a woman so I assumed you were trying to lose weight. Oh, this beer! Even I’m too cool to drink this brand of beer, and I’m not even old enough to buy my own! Ha ha ha. Do these waxing strips actually work? Pet food, huh? Let me tell you about a time when I struck and killed just such an animal with my car. I felt so bad. I bet you really wanted to hear that story. Please absolve me of my guilt.”
posted by armeowda at 4:56 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


In my neck of the woods, ain't nobody gonna bag your groceries, period.
Baggers went the way of the dodo long before self-checkout showed up.


Yeah, that's true. Maybe one out of ten times when I go to any grocery store, there will be a bagger. Frequently there WAS a bagger at the station (at Safeway, at least, if nowhere else) and then they walk away when I get up there. I'm sure they're "short staffed" like literally everyone else, but man, I'm tired of having to frantically bag my own groceries (sometimes in a very small space) while trying to pay at the same time and get it all out of there while the cashier starts ringing up the next one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:58 PM on March 7


At least in our market, we have plenty of vacancies for jobs which are much more interesting for coworkers, but we need to prioritise cashiers because we don't want people to wait in a really really long line.

So I'm guessing Safeway doesn't operate in your area.
posted by invitapriore at 5:00 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


The cashiers at my local grocery store are almost all women over 50 who've worked there for years. The store just rolled out 12 self checkouts and cut over half of their cashier positions. What are those women gonna do now? You think a 60 year old woman with no education can easily find another job? UBI is a nice dream, it's never gonna be reality outside of a few small countries. People need work. And if you don't think the money cashiers make is worth anything, and therefore its nbd if their jobs disappear, you need to start observing the reality of the people around you.
posted by Feminazgul at 5:21 PM on March 7 [49 favorites]


The atlantic article has this:
The Leicester researchers concluded that the ease of theft is likely inspiring people who might not otherwise steal to do so.
and it's a significant understatement. I have, not once but twice, accidentally stolen packages of paper towels which I placed on top of the machine when I began the process. I didn't even realize it until most of the way to the car. If it's possible to accidentally steal, then it must be incredibly easy if you're trying to do it.
posted by dbx at 5:25 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Didn't realize checkout was a union job in CA.

It isn't. There are some places that are unionized, some that are not. Here in So. CA, the big Kroger and Safeway run chains are unionized. I'm not sure of other chains, but by no means is this a State thing. UFCW has been a mixed bag. Last strike, about 15-20 years ago, didn't have a terribly good outcome. Existing employees got to more or less keep what they had. The path for new employees got hosed. The potential to make a career as an hourly floor employee kind of ended. The only way for a new hourly hire to earn a decent income now is to transition into some kind of a support/administration role or really bust you ass and jump into the managerial track.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:25 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Trader Joe's doesn't use self checkout and that's mostly where I shop. I don't mind it though because they fully staff their checkouts. When I'm there during prime grocery shopping time on the weekends, they've got 15-20 checkouts going full tilt and they are fast. They also pay better wages, retain their staff and everyone is friendly without being too extra.

I do like a good self checkout, but honestly don't miss it at TJs.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:27 PM on March 7 [14 favorites]


I like to load my reusable bag to keep from dinging the fragile produce. That's hit or miss at the cashier stations. No, I don't want this square carton sitting on top of my apples.

The local Kroger self checkout has an amazingly annoying voice.

TWO seventy Five.
ONE forty Nine--credit 25 CENTS.
ONE forty Nine--credit 25 CENTS.
ONE forty Nine--credit 25 CENTS.
PLACE-YOUR-ITEM-IN-THE-BAGGING-AREA. (what! -- it's already been put there.)

Just beep if it scanned okay. That's all I want.

Like Greg_Ace said,
... about 5 seconds after I've completed payment the Disembodied Voice starts bleating at me to remove my items from the bagging area. Yeah yeah yeah, gimme a f&%$*ing minute, sheesh.


I've tried the volume control set to "OFF", which is calming, until some item didn't scan correctly and there's no message saying to retry or weigh the last item -- that's only via voice.

Grrr.
posted by jjj606 at 5:28 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I love self-checkouts and the article writer is a poopy-head. I mean, why would I want to do more than scan my stuff, bag it, tap to pay and go? But I won't use a self-checkout if there's more than one person in front of me. Generally that means there's someone who doesn't understand how to shop (like, pays cash or worse still, a cheque, foranysakes) and will slow everyone down.
posted by scruss at 5:31 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I do like a good self checkout, but honestly don't miss it at TJs.

The amazing thing that I seldom have to wait more a few minutes at Trader Joe's. Usually I can just walk right up to an idle cashier.
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


At my market, you can walk around with a scanner and scan items as you put them into your bags and then scan the scanner at the self checkout without having to run them through individually. And without having to re-bag everything after the supermarket's bagger puts everything in the wrong way. It's bliss.

I understand the leftist, labor-oriented argument against it in theory, but in practice it is clearly superior in every way.
posted by mpbx at 5:50 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I shop at three separate grocery stores (Aldi, Hy-vee, Trader Joe's), and I don't think any of them have self-checkout. However, I appreciate the self-checkout at the drug store, because every time I need to buy something embarrassing, I have a vague feeling that the checkout person may be someone I know. And honestly, nobody needs to know that I'm buying foot oder eaters or fleet enemas or whatever. I wonder if self-checkout has actually reduced theft of things that people are embarrassed to buy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:56 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I use self-checkout mostly because of bagging. My main grocery store is Walmart and their cashiers are often terrible and bag slowly. But actually Aldi has the best system, with a speedy human cashier and an area for me to peacefully bag my groceries at my own pace without bein in anyone’s way. And the worst thing is if I end up at Walmart without reusable bags and the cashiers use plastic. I know they’re trained to bag such that the tissue-thin bags don’t rip but they use billions of bags for one cart of groceries. Holy crap it’s awful.
posted by dellsolace at 6:21 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this article lost me at "Nobody likes wading through an interminable phone menu to try to address a suspect charge on a phone bill—literally, everyone would rather speak with a customer service rep. "

Hah, no. The lengths I will go to avoid talking to a person on the phone are quite heroic. (My social anxiety is 100x worse on the phone, probably because of a lack of visual cues). Give me a robot (or preferably a web page) any day.

Self checkout is definitely my preferred method, for similar reasons (although my situation is much improved from the days I would avoid the grocery store for days to avoid having to interact with people).

(I'm definitely in favor of a world with UBI or whatever other safety nets we can get, such that jobs no longer become a prerequisite for existing in society and we can determine what jobs are useful/necessary separate from worrying about people surviving)

One thing that has surprised me is how little self-checkout there is in Japan, which has a huge labor shortage and wouldn't have this jobs wrinkle. Probably just an artifact of a slow-changing society.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:25 PM on March 7 [14 favorites]


I really wish the closest store had self-checkout just for the bagging reason. I have to fit it into two bags and walk it home. Balance and integrity are paramount. Stores don't actually teach people how to bag now that they don't have dedicated baggers. Instead it's more time spent in the parking lot re-bagging their miserable attempt packing what I knew how to pack when I bought the stuff in the first place. I'm down to trying to give them hints by tha arrangement of my items on the belt and placement of my bags... only works a little bit.

If you drive to the store and the journey of your groceries is just to the car and from the car... disregard the rant. If you have red marks on your shoulders from carrying a couple of bags back home... you know what you'd prefer.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:47 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


I love bagging my stuff, I take food out of the cart in the order I want you to put it in my bag already don't shuffle it.

What I really want is a self-check out machine that works as fast as the one regular cashiers have, no f***ng touch screen give me a keypad for fruits/vegetable I know the codes now. And don't ask me if I have coupons, and a points card, you can auto detect those if I scan them.

Its better than it used to be, old machines at my grocery store had race conditions in the keyboard input and half the time I entered a code they would get the number wrong.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:56 PM on March 7


Tangentially, as a person with moderate social anxiety, can we talk about what a Kafkaesque dystopian nightmare the Apple Store is?

I hear they've improved things recently, but the last time I was there, you just kinda... had to find someone who looked like they worked there and didn't look busy. There was no semblance of any sort of queue, nor were there any cues about who I should talk to to buy a thing or who I should talk to to get service. The neurotypical bias is staggering.

Anyway, speaking of Apple, I sure wish they could concentrate on more than one thing at a time, because I'm pretty sure they've got a lot of talented UX and hardware designers that could do a heck of a better job with these self-checkouts. They've gotten better recently, but it still seems like half the time they're built on top of a barely-responsive webapp.

I've also anecdotally noticed that the self-checkouts in poor[er] neighborhoods still tend to weigh items, and some seem to be waaaay more sensitive than others (the Columbia Heights Giant in DC being by far the worst offender that I've seen).

If you want a sight to behold, go to an Aldi right after it opens. They bring their top performers from nearby locations to train the new cashiers. The checkout line turns into a veritable railgun of inexpensive groceries.
posted by schmod at 6:57 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


I use self-checkout if the lines are much shorter, or if they have high school students trying to raise money for something by doing bagging. They invariably figure out the worst possible way to bag things and do that. (But my regular grocery store does not bag for you, so I'm doing the bagging if I self-checkout or go through a cashier.)
posted by jeather at 7:00 PM on March 7


I love bagging my stuff, I take food out of the cart in the order I want you to put it in my bag already don't shuffle it.

As long as we're writing letters to the editor, that's my frequent gripe. I use my bicycle for almost everything, so my groceries go on the belt in the order they're going to need to go into my panniers on the other end. So frustrating when the cashier deliberately sets something big and heavy, or flat and cold, to the side to scan a bunch of other stuff in whatever crazy order they like. Then at the tail end of everything here comes my bulky thing finally! Now I can start packing I guess!
posted by traveler_ at 7:04 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Anti-labor bullshit, is what I think.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:05 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


I work in retail. ... I need a job. I can't get the jobs a lot of you guys have. I make 20k a year and it's more than I ever expected to make in my life. It's really easy to talk about how horrible retail jobs are and good riddance, but if you expect the country that voted for Donald fucking Trump is going to give me UBI, you need a reality check.

Don't feel bad about using the self-checkout -- it has nothing to do with your choices and everything to do with corporate greed. But be real. Don't lie to yourself, and please don't tell me that it's good for me -- or that it's good for the huge number of cashiers that we used to have who no longer have jobs.


Quoted for truth. Thanks, the liquid oxygen.
posted by virago at 7:05 PM on March 7 [17 favorites]


Self-checkouts are training you to be ordered around by a robot. And you don't even get a human being to tell you they love you when you walk in because of course we'd outdo Idiocracy.

"Oh in the future we will have UBI so self-checkout is helping us get there" is a good self-justification until you see the brand name of the robot that tazes you when you take part at the leftist rally and you remember where you recognize it from.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:21 PM on March 7 [19 favorites]


The machines seem pretty smart about knowing weights and detecting when I accidentally breathe on the bagging area too hard, but I don't quite understand what keeps a bad-intentioned person from setting a $200 item on one and purchasing it for its weight in apples by entering PLU code 4129 or whatever.
posted by floam at 7:24 PM on March 7


RFID? Computer vision?
posted by floam at 7:25 PM on March 7


OK, followed one of the links from the article now. Apparently that's a thing and it is called "The Banana Trick".
posted by floam at 7:32 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


On a good day I can cherish human inefficiency, but machine stupidity never fails to send me up a wall. My partner is the other way round. You can probably guess how we each prefer to check out.
posted by aws17576 at 7:37 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


(And by "cherish human inefficiency" I mean I actually rather like the mild unpredictability of the situation. Sometimes a checker or a person in front of me in line will say something odd. The computer will never do that, which is a severe demerit in my eyes.)
posted by aws17576 at 7:44 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


From the bonus link:

supermarkets Capitalism could be seen as having created “a crime-generating environment” that promotes profit “above social responsibility.”

ftfy
posted by aka burlap at 7:47 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


my understanding was that ftfy is officially disfavored

also I forget how to do the regex joke thing but replace capitalism with industry
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:53 PM on March 7


I shop in four places and Winco has the self checkout, which I always use. I wouldn't think of cheating employee owned Winco. Trader Joes, I like the place, and the people who work there. The Vallarta Mexican market, I like everything in it and the people. Vallarta has started having more whole grains and organic stuff. Come to think of it it is just three places now. I have always liked self check out.
posted by Oyéah at 8:07 PM on March 7


oh shoot! I'm always behind the times.
posted by aka burlap at 8:07 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I'll use self-checkout when we have UBI. Until then, I'm going with the human.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:18 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


I avoid self checkout for the reasons cited, but goodness was I annoyed yesterday when the guy at the register reached over the remainder of the frozen goods to start a new bag with the fresh mango at the bottom so it could get squished more efficiently.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:23 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I sort of like self-checkout, I can keep listening to my podcast the whole time and not have to deal with a person who makes me anxious.

Automation should exist to make all of our lives easier. Working a register is a miserable affair for sure, and it would be good for less people to have to do it. Always been very jealous of the Aldi worker's seats.

The order these things happen in is crucial though. As people have said, it's no good declaring that's more efficient and prepares us for UBI or whatever, when it's blatantly obvious that it's happening without that security being around first. First we should free people from the need for that work, then we take away the job.

Instead, as has been the case for roughly 200 years now, the job is automated away and the benefits go to the boss. We cannot continue to accept these blatant lies about trickle-down efficiencies. This is what the Luddites knew.

Also, we call the banana trick the bakery trick here. Same deal, but with plain white rolls instead of bananas. Many of my friends would have go hungry without it.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 8:26 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


In the Boston area, Stop & Shop is aggressively moving into automation. They've greatly ramped up the number of self-serve lanes, they are trying to convince the city and state to let them use drone cars to deliver groceries (not self-driving cars; they'd be driven by somebody remotely), and they are currently piloting a googly-eyed automoton called Marty that roams aisles looking for spills and fallen signs that it reports to store managers - via a call center in the Philippines.
posted by adamg at 8:31 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I’m starting to come around to self-checkout. At Fred Meyer (a Kroger store) we have limited and unlimited item self-checkout, but I still use human-operated checkout when I can. The nearby Winco has one set of six self-checkout stands, and they are always faster for those of us who only buy a few things there.

The local Wal-Mart is now about 75% self-checkout. They’ve done something to improve their kiosk algorithms because they no longer yell at me for weird reasons like they used to. Doing anything in a regular checkout line at the store is lawful, so the kiosks are an improvement. And now that I learned not everything has to be kept on the scale, I’m much happier.
posted by lhauser at 8:33 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I rarely use self-checkouts at the grocery store (or anywhere else, really) but there are exceptions. I usually bypass the automated ticket seller at the cinema and go to the box office. Some years ago I arrived at the movie theatre five minutes before showtime and headed for the ticket seller.

Upon arrival, I saw a lengthy lineup while behind the counter a seventeen-year-old was flipping over the last page of a thick binder, while holding a coupon of some sort in his other hand. It seemed he had just come to the end of his search for a procedure that told him what to do with the coupon. A second later, I saw his head come up and he seemingly began to scan the theatre for a grownup who would come and help him with the impasse before him. “Right: back to the machine I go,” I thought.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:35 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I shop at a store that doesn‘t have self-checkout but I know all the cashiers and know who is chatty or quirky and who is fast and who won’t even look you in the face and so I can just pick the one I feel like (not) interacting with that day.
I like the variation human beings provide.
posted by The Toad at 8:40 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Pour one out for the self-order kiosks at fast food restaurants. I can finally order in confidence that the order is put correctly into the system. Before, my "correct order" rate was maybe 70%. And they're also able to use my coupons without a fuss/confusion. They are a damn godsend for the customer.

I beg to differ. The big, honkin’ McDonalds kiosk I used recently was a UI horror. Utterly nothing was obvious or clearly discoverable, the process clunky and maddeningly opaque. In the end, the entire ordering process easily took at least three times as long as speaking to a human would have. It sure was pretty, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


This whole thing about preferring self-checkout in order to avoid human interaction is confusing to me, because aren’t you shopping around other people? I shop in terror that someone I work with or live near will see me at our grocery store and notice that I have the most depraved flavor combination of Pillsbury Toaster Scrambles in my basket.

Basically, if I’m heading to a store with my weekend pants on and my makeup off, I am 0% concerned about a cashier judging me (they’ve seen it all) and 100% more concerned about a fellow shopper judging me. So self-check adds no value in that regard.
posted by witchen at 8:45 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


In the Boston area, Stop & Shop is aggressively moving into automation.

Welp, I already hate Stop & Shop's self-checkout so if that googly-eyed monstrosity makes it to Western MA it'll be the Big Y across town for all my giant supermarket chain needs. (No self-checkout there -- though the article is a little outdated in that I hear Big Y is adding self-checkout in some of their newer stores after famously ditching it years ago).


Also,

Basically, if I’m heading to a store with my weekend pants on and my makeup off, I am 0% concerned about a cashier judging me (they’ve seen it all) and 100% more concerned about a fellow shopper judging me. So self-check adds no value in that regard.


Agreed. Maybe it's because I've worked a lot of retail and customer service jobs, but I loathe the other customers in the store but feel pretty benign about the folks who work there, so I would prefer the aisles to be emptier so I can select my groceries without waiting for Grocery Tourist #95864 to get out of my way (looking at you, people who treat Trader Joe's like a museum) or that weird thing where you run into someone you know at the store and then keep running into them as you progress through the aisles and you don't know if you should keep acknowledging them because how many times can a person be expected to say hello to someone they used to work with or whatever? So you start pretending to be too engrossed in your shopping to notice them but you both know frozen peas are not that fascinating. And then it turns out Grocery Tourist or Former Coworker or Other Variety of Annoying Humanity has distracted you from your list so now you have to keep backtracking to the aisles you missed and you fatigue easily and supermarkets are ridiculously immense now so by the time you get to the register it's a fucking vacation to have somebody else ring up and bag your items.
posted by camyram at 9:46 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


does the whole preferring that a(nother) human scan the goods and process the payment ethic, then, favor preferring the human bank teller with paper forms and legal tender to an ATM?

i favor the checkout machine at the grocer. it's nothing personal; just business.
posted by 20 year lurk at 9:50 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Something self-checkout is nice for, is when you have a jar full of coins you want to spend, and you don't want to make a scene at the bank or lose a percentage to Coinstar.

You can just clink, clink in those nickels and pennies without ruining a cashier's day.
posted by floam at 10:41 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


I hate self checkouts, mainly because dealing with another beeping, blinking, error-prone machine is a lot worse for my blood pressure than dealing with a human. I also check in with actual agents at airports and refuse to use the kiosks.

I realize other people may have biochemistry that works the other way around, however. I am, after all, also one of those who sets microwaves to never ever beep and me, and whose phone has been locked on silent for the last decade. So toss that into the psych profile as you will.
posted by rokusan at 11:00 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Basically, if I’m heading to a store with my weekend pants on and my makeup off, I am 0% concerned about a cashier judging me (they’ve seen it all) and 100% more concerned about a fellow shopper judging me.

Having actually worked supermarket retail, I know exactly how much of a shit the cashiers give and just how much they judge the people they're serving (it's a hell of a lot in both cases - I guess there's not much else to chat about in the break room). At least around here. It also means that I'm more likely to vaguely know the supermarket cashiers than anyone else at the shops.
posted by Dysk at 11:31 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Man, the things we are willing to let slide just for the sake of a little "convenience" is frightening, but maybe no more so than how we are allowing ourselves to be trained by and for the benefit machines to gain those added few moments.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:02 AM on March 8 [9 favorites]


I hate self checkout at the grocery store. I find human cashiers faster. Plus, jobs. Personally I don't have the chutzpah to steal but am cheered by those who pull the banana trick. If you don't want to pay for staff, then you better be able to accept rampant theft by customers as a tradeoff.
posted by emd3737 at 12:05 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


I went to the self checkout, but there weren't any mirrors! Very disappointed.
posted by M-x shell at 12:16 AM on March 8 [15 favorites]


I very rarely use the self-checkout, but over here cashiers are paid a living wage and are allowed to sit or stand as they please. And being a nation of shut-ins, they will say three things: "Hello", "Need any bags?" and "Need your receipt?".

(Do cashiers in the US never stock the shelves? Here they rotate between different duties around the store in the course of a day, both to break up the monotony and prevent RSI.)
posted by Harald74 at 2:05 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


To be fair: Most cashiers here will happily chat with you if you initiate, but in my almost 40 years of going to the shop I've never had a comment on anything I've bought.
posted by Harald74 at 2:06 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


I go to the self checkout when I only have a couple items. What was really annoying was a couple months ago I did a BIG shop in the middle of the night at Walmart (since there are less people then) and they literally had 0 cashiers. Everyone was forced to use the self checkout. Since I was buying alot of multiples of things (like 50 individual kool-aid packets, etc), the machine assistant person ended up ringing all my stuff up anyways, and of course it was not efficient because self checkouts are not made for normal cashier stuff. Stupidest idea ever, Walmart.

I did hate the jack-in-the-box machines when they were testing them because the one closest to my work was pretty much in an office park, and the 3 people in front of me in line were ordering breakfast for the whole office. And again, the stupid self checkout machine wouldn't let you choose like 30 breakfast jacks. You had to select one 30x. And during this testing phase, there was no option to use a person instead. I think it only lasted like 2 weeks and then the machines went away and I was sooooo happy!

Contrast that with now I use the McDonald's machine because I'm living in a foreign country and I will make a beeline for anything that helps me not have to interact in a foreign language.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:19 AM on March 8


As a person who buys groceries for a family of two and gets around by bike and has social anxiety, self checkout is awesome. I always have an appropriate number of items. I can keep my podcast playing. I don't have to wait in line. And I have a background in software testing, so I can usually anticipate the needs of the terrible UX. But it is terrible UX. The very best machines are bad, and the worst border on abusive.
posted by Nothing at 2:28 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


Gotta say, what people are describing as the best machines in this thread sound an awful lot like the worst ones here in the UK. The best ones here work really well, and have solved a lot of the UI/UX issues (eg you don't have to select a payment type at for example Tesco, you just insert your card or cash, or scan your coupons). One employee supervising a bank of eight self checkouts is perfectly fine for dealing with the occasional hiccup or alcohol approval, and that is how everyone seems to do it.

Like with any technology or solution, it sucks if it's badly implemented, but I don't think it's fair to judge the idea itself on the bad implementations.
posted by Dysk at 3:05 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


The worst thing about the self-checkouts is you can see first-hand the employee hitting the "VISIBLY OVER 25" button when you buy alcohol. Rude.

If the supermarket sells beer here, you have to pay for it at a totally different checkout line and they scan everyone's driver's license, no exceptions. There are a couple of Giant Eagles that also have wine and alcohol but you have to buy that at a third checkout because those are run by the state. So if you're buying groceries, beer and wine, you need to wait on line at three separate cashiers all within the same store.
posted by octothorpe at 3:22 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


~The worst thing about the self-checkouts is you can see first-hand the employee hitting the "VISIBLY OVER 25" button when you buy alcohol. Rude.

~If the supermarket sells beer here, you have to pay for it at a totally different checkout line and they scan everyone's driver's license, no exceptions.


In my area, if you take alcohol through the self-checkout, the process stops dead until the lone "keeper of the self-checks" can get to you, check your age (no exceptions) and then enter their ID code on the screen to approve the purchase.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:24 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Instead, as has been the case for roughly 200 years now, the job is automated away and the benefits go to the boss.

No no no.

If the jobs had been automated away, you'd pull your cart up to the self-check-out and robot arms would pluck items out and scan them and bag them for you. That would at least have robotic awesomeness.

The actual labor has been handed directly to customers as volunteer workers... with the benefits going to the boss. The only thing the automation does is make it harder for you to cheat while doing so.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:34 AM on March 8 [20 favorites]


We just installed new self checkout stations at my library and people LOVE them. Our customer service staff love them, too, because instead of checking out books, they can work on other tasks.
posted by Biblio at 4:41 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


I prefer self-checkout partly because I have taken the time to learn how the machines work and therefore can get out of the shopping barn as quickly as possible, and partly because I don't feel the warm fuzzies of nostalgia for the golden age of a servant class that's expected to stand on aching feet all day and breathe in ghastly customers' unmuffled coughs and sneezes while bearing the brunt of every whining complaint a consumer feels compelled to noisily vent at who they foolishly believe to be the incarnation of the corporation that cares about neither customer nor wage slave.
posted by sonascope at 5:47 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


Human checker: “Mmmm, pasta. Must be cheat day on your diet, huh? I mean you’re a woman so I assumed you were trying to lose weight. Oh, this beer! Even I’m too cool to drink this brand of beer, and I’m not even old enough to buy my own! Ha ha ha. Do these waxing strips actually work? Pet food, huh? Let me tell you about a time when I struck and killed just such an animal with my car. I felt so bad. I bet you really wanted to hear that story. Please absolve me of my guilt.”

This right here. I'm not interested in paying to have a grocery clerk either inadvertently or deliberately try to shame me for my purchases under the guise of being friendly or helpful. I see this happening a lot more lately. In my experience it's usually young males in the self-checkout line and women in the regular checkout line.

We just installed new self checkout stations at my library and people LOVE them.

Yes, they're great. You can get in and out quickly and you don't have to deal with a customer service person trying to engage you on your reading or movie viewing choices.

Right now I'm pretty much enjoying Target's system the best. The clerk is nearby if you need help but otherwise they're not trying to insert themselves into the activity.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:33 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


I use self checkouts when I have one or two things to buy and those things are bar-coded (cats, toilet paper, etc). Otherwise, I feel like my produce buys just clog up the line behind me until I memorize the PLU code for sage or shallots or whatever.

The closest grocery store to my house is the Co-Op, which is an awesome co-op and (Sunday morning jazz brunch aside) a lovely place to shop, in part because I know the cashiers (some of them are actual friends of mine), and I like interacting with humans, probably because I'm single and work at home when I'm not traveling, which tends to make me more of an extrovert when I'm out than I actually am.
posted by thivaia at 6:34 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I'm a reusable bag bringing, scan as you go, self-checkout using Stop and Shop customer. However, I startle really easily, so I've been exclusively using Peapod pickup since that damn robot showed up. Marty is the stuff of nightmares and a union scab.
posted by Ruki at 6:49 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


If the jobs had been automated away, you'd pull your cart up to the self-check-out and robot arms would pluck items out and scan them and bag them for you. That would at least have robotic awesomeness.

That's if the labour had been automated away. The job is not the labour, it's the paying someone to do it.
I don't think we disagree about what's actually happening.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:53 AM on March 8


My work just announced that they will be replacing our "boring vending machines" with a "market-style snack and beverage kiosk featuring the latest self-checkout technology."

So, an app-controlled . . . vending machine?
posted by whuppy at 7:06 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


For those who abhor the Kroger self-checkout "voice," at my local store there is a nice big button on the screen that lets you mute it! Which I use EVERY DAMN TIME.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:08 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I hate self-checkouts. I don't know where you people are shopping that they're faster. I go grocery shopping at the time most other humans do, because I work a regular 9-5 M-F, and the self-checkout is always a shitshow of epic proportions. People looking for barcodes, letting all their stuff pile up and then start bagging, it always takes a million seconds for them to pay, oh look here's a guy who's buying a month's worth of groceries for an entire firehouse, guess my dog is eating dinner at 10PM tonight because I'm never leaving this fucking Acme

Why are these soft pretzels I'm buying under "produce"? Yes machine I know I have 3 bags of groceries here I had to put the other two on the floor so I can make room for the last bit of my shopping. And oh great, I'm 6'1" so I get to hunch over and paw at the screen for 5 minutes while I do this, also I have 2 chronic medical conditions so I'm always in at least a little pain, so I get to drain my energy GIVING THE FUCKING ACME MONEY even before I start the 10 minute walk home lugging my groceries.

The one thing I will say for the machines here is that they're smart enough to not make you choose a payment type if you stick a card in.
posted by Automocar at 7:17 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


My favorite grocery store has big signs with PLUs (the vegetable tags) and printers in the vegetable section, so you weigh, price, and tag your vegetables right when you buy them. Sometimes there are lines and sometimes the printers break, but overall it's great. So once you get to the cashier, they just scan the printed vegetable upc you already put on there.

Also lots of people are cheering Aldi, but last time I saw the numbers for my region, their sales per square foot were like $0.25 vs a traditional grocery store of closer to $1 (which is lousy) and the best grocery closer to $2, so I don't think moving to that model would be a positive one for anyone. It's slightly buoyed by Aldi being in worse locations with lower rent, but still their sales model in the US is really not sustainable as competition against other grocery stores.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:29 AM on March 8


I’ve taken to calling this second category, simply, shitty automation
The problem of this article is that self checkout is an example of automation done right, at least from a consumer's perspective. Of course, there are cases when it's badly implemented, but in my experience it's such a huge time saver that it has basically changed my shopping strategy. Regular checkout lines are not only long, but the longer they are the most likely they're going to clog up, for a variety of reasons (barcode issues, coupon issues, cash issues, credit card issues, etc). Self-checkout is much faster and reliable, so I can shop anytime, even when I'm in a hurry: I can be in and out of the store in 10 min instead of 20-30 min. Note that cashiers don't bag items in my country, so this particular advantage does not exist.
posted by elgilito at 7:41 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I hate self-checkout machines and only use them in extreme circumstances. The nearest Home Depot under-staffs its checkout lanes and the employees seem put upon if you impose upon them to ring you up, so I've used theirs twice. Mostly, I refuse. And I go well out of my way to avoid human interaction most days, if I can, but this is a hill I'll take a stand on.

I'm old enough to remember when we still had the option of having gas pumped for us at the filling stations. (This was Missouri, not Oregon or NJ where AFAIK, it's still mandatory.) Probably not a super-satisfying career, but a few people in our little town worked as attendants at the gas station and paid their bills that way. I feel like there's been a consistent and steady devaluing of the worth of human beings - at least in the U.S. - and no concern for what happens to people displaced by technology. I'm not really saying anything new here, but adding my +1 that people matter and jobs for people matter.

Yes, running a register is unrewarding, unpleasant work that most people don't enjoy doing. But. It's still a job in a world where people still need jobs. I am unconvinced that they will be re-deployed to more satisfying work should everyone be willing to switch to the machines. I'm definitely a supporter of UBI, so if that happens, great - I'll scan my own groceries happily. (Well, probably crabbily given the state of the technology, but.)

I need to shop at Trader Joe's more. It's a bit out of the way, but as far as corporate entities go, it seems less inhumane than others. Their cashiers are usually efficient and just the right amount of friendly without being annoying.
posted by jzb at 7:42 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]


I strongly prefer self-checkout because I don't want to talk to anyone, it lets me use whatever bags I want and the line seems shorter the way it's organized, but I also understand that it makes me part of the problem. I believe the expectation of and preference for hands on, person to person customer service is generational, and my generation doesn't value it as highly. One of the things that history tends to skip over about the Luddites is that they were right in the short term. That generation of guys had their livelihoods irreparably damaged by automation. Real people were trampled underfoot by the onward march of progress, even though society as a whole stood to benefit.
posted by Selena777 at 8:12 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I hate having to make small talk with anyone. I especially don't want to talk about my food choices with someone when all I want to do is get home after a long day at work. I also want to bag my groceries in a logical way using the least amount of bags possible. I love the self checkouts.
posted by twilightlost at 8:25 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Also lots of people are cheering Aldi, but last time I saw the numbers for my region, their sales per square foot were like $0.25 vs a traditional grocery store of closer to $1 (which is lousy) and the best grocery closer to $2, so I don't think moving to that model would be a positive one for anyone.

That's a shame. The thing I like best about Aldi is that their cashiers may sit or stand as they wish, y'know, like human beings. It's infuriating to see cashiers not only forced to stand to work in every other store, but also required to go wait in front of their registers to greet incoming customers when they aren't actively checking someone out. Why is that a problem? Because the middle of the aisle hasn't got any anti-fatigue mats, and also it's a sickening performance of servility. I don't need cashiers to be obsequious, thanks.

But yeah I prefer cashiers because no self-check register near me offers any reasonable way for me to load my bicycle panniers, so on the whole I'd rather have an Aldi-style shelf past the register where I can load them up out of people's way, or just bring the cart full of unbagged groceries directly to my bicycle to load there. I miss living near an Aldi.
posted by asperity at 8:28 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


partly because I don't feel the warm fuzzies of nostalgia for the golden age of a servant class that's expected to stand on aching feet all day and breathe in ghastly customers' unmuffled coughs and sneezes while bearing the brunt of every whining complaint a consumer feels compelled to noisily vent at who they foolishly believe to be the incarnation of the corporation that cares about neither customer nor wage slave

Throughout this post, I keep running into this form of what I think is perceived liberalism/leftism which is proudly in favor of getting rid of crummy jobs without the single slightest thought given to whether replacement jobs are actually available, now, for the people who hold those crummy jobs because they need them to pay rent this month, and I just...I don't know. It really gives me a glimpse of what Mefi must have been like ten years ago.
posted by praemunire at 9:25 AM on March 8 [28 favorites]


I keep running into this form of what I think is perceived liberalism/leftism which is proudly in favor of getting rid of crummy jobs without the single slightest thought given to whether replacement jobs are actually available

I'm also in favor of automating away other dangerous, filthy, body-wrecking, disease-causing jobs, too, and implementing a universal basic income to keep head and heart together while we adapt to a new way. Expecting humans to serve as biorobots for generations so that we can pretend that we live in a picturesque past with a servile class grateful for the scraps we give them is far more inhumane than finding a new way.
posted by sonascope at 9:35 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]


Do cashiers in the US never stock the shelves?

My US understanding of grocery stores, at least the ones I'm familiar with which are mostly unionized, is that no, you really never see these same individuals stocking shelves, although I think there are other duties they can take on when lines are less busy.
posted by floam at 9:49 AM on March 8


This thread is so infuriating. I've never been more aware that I am unwelcome here with ideas that these jobs are more inhumane than actually living in poverty. I live on 14,000 a year on disability. So do friends who aspire to these jobs to try like afford food for the entire month. That's all going to say about it cause I spent the morning feeling like shit because I had a fucked up life and must be a failure because I don't have the luxury of these jobs "being more inhumane" than the scraps I'm already living on. This is why I feel like not a real mefite.
posted by kanata at 9:58 AM on March 8 [29 favorites]


Leaving aside the class issue, as one who also has a job near the minimum wage and finds some of the talk about people like me rather, let's say, dispiriting to be nice. There really is something even more worrisome to me and that's the overall tone of the thread where the very notion of having to deal with other human beings is itself now something only to be borne painfully and grudgingly when avoidance is not possible, which thankfully machines make so much easier to do, not only with automation, but podcasts and other controllable media that allows us to only tune into the right people, those who are like us or better instead of those we might not behave exactly as we wish.

That too is machine learning. It's something that simply wasn't possible and thus wasn't even considered an option not that long ago, but now many of us have grown accustomed to being able to tune out from others and find any imperfection as infuriating as a two minute boot time on a computer or "snail mail" or not having TV on demand and all those other "conveniences" that we've been trained not to expect.

Even talking about UBI now is starting to sound more like an ideal for further avoidance of those others we don't want to see as much as concern over well being. Building political unity with people when we can't stand interacting with them if they aren't exactly what we want is, to say the least, difficult. Which suits those implementing the automation just fine, much easier to rule when people are too caught up in their own interests to want to deal with anyone else's. It's a nifty trick really, add a little hint of convenience and profit since once adopted it won't be willingly given up.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:22 AM on March 8 [32 favorites]


For what it's worth, I think the system is fucked six ways to Sunday, and that without increasing job options or providing work for people beyond "grocery cashier" we're just going to fuck people worse--but that as far as jobs to preserve go, I wouldn't be trying to save that job either.

My roomie is a grocery cashier. I would like her to stay employed. She doesn't seem to hate it--it's job--and HEB treats its workers pretty well for retail as far as I can tell. But the problem isn't about whether or not consumers can make grocery cashiers remain as a viable job; it's that there is no idea about what to have humans doing that isn't automatable and that our economy has not bothered to train much of its workforce to do much of anything else. Our economy is fucked. I don't think the decisions of individual consumers are going to change much about a deeply fucked-up system.

That same roomie has a side gig doing Vulcan calligraphy and a small business based on art using that skill. She's getting to be fluent in calligraphic written Vulcan and is branching into several other conlangs. I can about guarantee that she'd rather be doing that than being a grocery cashier, but there's not enough money flowing into the general public for her to survive as an artist doing that, so. Grocery cashier job it is.
posted by sciatrix at 10:26 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]


I'm just here to put in my vote for the term "awfulmation".
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:36 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I'm also in favor of automating away other dangerous, filthy, body-wrecking, disease-causing jobs, too, and implementing a universal basic income to keep head and heart together while we adapt to a new way. Expecting humans to serve as biorobots for generations so that we can pretend that we live in a picturesque past with a servile class grateful for the scraps we give them is far more inhumane than finding a new way.

...you understand that people are going to have actual rent due on April 1, 2019, right? People who are talking about preserving these jobs at the present moment are not doing so because they enjoy chatting with cashiers, they are doing so because they understand that people have to pay rent every month and getting rid of those jobs does not actually lead in any direct way to their getting better jobs, so cheering one without simultaneously implementing the other is actually harmful to those employees. Preening yourself on your love of human dignity while ignoring the actual underpinnings of human survival is peak upper-middle-class tech "liberal."
posted by praemunire at 11:19 AM on March 8 [40 favorites]


The cashiers at my local grocery stores seem totally confused by the concept of reusable bags and want to put everything in an individual plastic bag. Food Lion is particularly bad about this. I have literally unbagged things and handed the plastic back to the cashier. Yes, I am that person.

Being able to use a reusable bag with a minimum of fuss is, to me, the only benefit of self-checkout. It's the best way for me to get my groceries home if I'm on a bike, and even if I'm not, it's better for the environment. If stores around here would train their cashiers to use the customer's reusable bag, or allow the customer to bag things themselves, I would be much more inclined to use the manned lanes than self-checkout.
posted by basalganglia at 11:38 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Don't feel bad about using the self-checkout-- it has nothing to do with your choices, and everything to do with corporate greed

I wrote a long post here, but now with lunch hindsight, a summary is better: corporations respond to price comparison shoppers. Grocery chains chase ways to lower and keep low the price of milk or diapers because shoppers will follow whoever does. Customers are a key part of the equation, as Kroger can attest. So we shouldn't kid ourselves that we just need better corporate leaders.
posted by pwnguin at 1:08 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I see it as similar to how a lot of US gas stations (except in Oregon and NJ) switched from full-service gas stations to self service. Those two states managed to hang on to those jobs because there were laws in place. I wonder if there could be similar laws passed to prevent self-checkouts as well.

I guess since everyone else has an opinion on the matter, I'll chip in and say I personally have no real preference of a cashier or self-checkout. Sometimes one is faster than the other, but one has never been consistently faster to the point where I prefer one or the other totally.
posted by FJT at 2:41 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I value the cashiers, retail and food service workers who enable me to live a comfortable life. I had those jobs before I got my current job and I know how hard they work.

The one thing I prefer doing on a machine is ordering food - since that seems to be the hardest part to get right unless you have a very standard order, plus my hearing is not the best when there is front-of-house noise.
posted by soelo at 3:43 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Can't phrase what I want to say right. Echoing everyone pushing back on ____ but putting it better than I could. Shop jobs aren't saving the world, but have a strong social function, they have value and they pay the fucking bills.

I have nothing to say to the introverts in this thread. Because I'm one of you too. So that'll be £5.27 and if you're not engaging with me, I'm not engaging with you.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 8:54 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


What really annoys me about self checkout is that it wouldn't be viable at all if the chains hadn't gone and forced all the people who had been there for years and worked up to a modest, but livable, wage.

The union folks at the store I used to shop at many years ago could scan and bag an order faster than even the most skilled customer can just scan all their items at a self checkout, thanks to the ergonomics of the machines being even worse than the typical checkout stand. It was truly impressive to watch them work.

But yeah, if the standard you're comparing against is someone who has worked there for maybe a week at a store where training on the mechanics of grocery store cashiering isn't really a thing it's no wonder people prefer self checkout.
posted by wierdo at 9:18 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


jenfullmoon: "This is exactly why I hate self-checkout. My experience of it is ALWAYS like the author's. I am flabbergasted so many of you can actually successfully use it without having to call a human over."

The Safeway in my area has first gen self check out lanes and they suck even though they have been updated and suck less than when first installed. The Superstore on the other hand has much newer machines and shopping there every week I don't think I've ever had those sort of messages from those tills. They changed the interface (for the better) last year and it took me a couple trips to deprecate the old way but basically it's what I want shopping to be.

The self checkout is also vastly faster than going to a human checker even if there is no line. It makes no sense but it's observationally true. Maybe experience/training is the thing lacking. Part of it is the machines don't try to upsell me with Deals of the Day.

witchen: "This whole thing about preferring self-checkout in order to avoid human interaction is confusing to me, because aren’t you shopping around other people?"

The people milling around me aren't asking how my day is (while I'm buying wet wipes, Prep H, and cleaning products) or really interacting with me at all. They are mobile furnishings rather than something that triggers my anxiety. I could care less if a cashier is judging me for what I'm wearing or even pointing and laughing as my anxiety stems from having to run a script in my brain during any social interaction. Interacting with people face to face is hard work for me and I'd prefer not to have to deal with it during my non work hours in most cases.

octothorpe: "If the supermarket sells beer here, you have to pay for it at a totally different checkout line and they scan everyone's driver's license, no exceptions."

If the supermarket sells beer here you have to go to the next province over where beer sales are in a separate building because BC doesn't have beer sales in supermarkets (with some rural exceptions) and the separate building thing is how Alberta does it.
posted by Mitheral at 1:28 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, deciding not to use self checkout probably isn’t going to stop them. It used to be only high paying, skilled, hard labor jobs were being automated because that’s where the technology was (robot arms and such for auto industry jobs). Now it has progressed so quickly that nearly any job can be automated, it just depends if the industry decides its worth it. I work in local TV news and have seen our workforce cut in more than half over the last 20 years. As a director, my job consists of responsibilities that were done by four in the past. If you pay attention, not just local, but all tv news has a high rate of automation, and as a result, on-air mistakes are now commonplace, but the corporations that own these stations are willing to accept those mistakes for cost savings. Large grocery stores are no different in that they are willing to take the calculated theft/loss for the benefit of fewer wages and benefits. We are not going to stop this automation process, but we do have to figure out how support everyone in this new economic landscape.
posted by tvgraphicsguy at 5:25 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


All the self-checkouts here seem the same, I don't know what generation they'd be. I need human assistance at least half the time, mostly because the machines are terrible at reading the discounted product price stickers.

Not sorry to always harp on about the same stuff, the real issue is class war. We didn't choose it, but damned if we're going to give up.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:41 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the local Martins has the hand-held scanners too, which I love. I can go in, grab some bags and a scanner, make a pass grabbing, scanning, and bagging through the store, pay, and get out with a minimum of human interaction and wasted time.

The only annoyance is that about once every couple of years my cart gets tagged for a human inspection, I guess to make sure I'm actually buying what I scanned. All they ever did was scan a couple of items to make sure I had scanned them, then compare the total count of items to what was in the cart. No real check to make sure I hadn't scanned $5.99 apricots as .99 peaches, or scrutiny to see if that steak was the same one I scanned before bagging.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:45 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Where I live, it's not about speculating on the possible effects of automation. That is, there may be additional effects, but automation has already weakened the connection between my local branch of Jewel and the surrounding community, and the same to some extent with Whole Foods. At both Jewel and WF, there were a handful of workers with special needs, and now they are gone. The whole front end in each place is now jammed with stuff and there are fewer visible people working. Jewel just underwent a redesign where the front end is dominated by self-checkout. At WF you have all the Amazon lockers and signage and stuff.

Also where I live, in the past there's not been a hugely clear-cut class line between the people who work in those places and the customers. Jewel was staffed by a lot of people I saw around the neighborhood; there seemed to be more employees commuting to WF. A ton of people seem to have left both places in the wake of recent reorganization, although that may be partly my perception; they may not be hiring to replace people who leave. But I do speak to enough employees in both places to know that staffing is thinner than it was 5 years ago. It feels really impersonal shopping in Jewel now, and I am pretty sure that's by design. I think it's a toss-up in terms of efficiency. And it's a shame to lose Jewel as a source of union jobs and health insurance. (If I'm correct, more people are now being hired part time without benefits.)
posted by BibiRose at 5:44 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Ok, geezer talk coming: There used to be somebody who pumped the gas, cleaned your windshield, maybe checked your oil. Grocery cashiers used to input prices manually, no scanner, and they usually spoke to you as if maybe you're a fellow human. Many people went to the water company, electric company, etc., to pay their bill in person. Lots of big grocery chains are unionized, so the jobs pay a living wage with benefits. those jobs are worth preserving. When I was younger, minimum wage used to be close to a livable wage.

Self-checkout can be annoying because stuff doesn't scan right. A human still has to check my ID for beer or wine. The cashier knows which screen to go to for the bananas or whatever, I end up paging through multiple screens. If I don't put stuff on the right place to bag it, the machine chides me. Screw that. I will use it when I have a couple simple items and the lines are long, otherwise, Nope.

We should seriously shorten the work week and raise wages and automate hateful jobs. Everybody should seriously be kind to cashiers at the grocery or book store. They do so much emotional labor and it is seldom recognized or compensated.
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on March 10 [14 favorites]


> in my almost 40 years of going to the shop I've never had a comment on anything I've bought

It might be a gender thing. When I hit a certain age I started getting questions from cashiers about what I was was buying, how I was going to prepare it, if that brand was a particularly good one, etc. I guess it's presumed that middle aged women know how to cook and, in that category anyway, we're worth paying attention to.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:41 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


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