Supermarkets and Humility (With Blast From the Past Video!)

At my local supermarket, they installed self-service checkout. At times, this can be really frustrating, since people don’t seem to know how to use them quickly. So I found this story interesting:

A Massachusetts-based supermarket chain is doing away with its self-service checkout lanes because they just haven’t been able to replace the friendly human cashier…

The chain opened self-serve lanes in 2003 as a way to speed up the checkout process and save money.

But a study found that the opposite has happened. Checkout times have lengthened as customers grapple with bar codes, coupons and payment methods. The company added that the lanes can’t replace the service provided by a real human being.

Other supermarket chains, including Albertsons and Kroger, have also done away with self-serve lanes.

I find this phenomenon especially interesting since my neighborhood is full of wealthy professionals (I am a non-wealthy professional…), but they still can’t seem to work a 21st century cash register–you know, one of those low-skill jobs.

Go figure.

Anyway, here’s the video:

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4 Responses to Supermarkets and Humility (With Blast From the Past Video!)

  1. physicalist says:

    The problem I run into with the auto-check-out lanes (at Stop-n-Shop) is with the auto-check-to-verify-that-you’re-paying-for-stuff step, which the cashiers don’t have to deal with. If I could just scan, pay, and go, it would be fine.

    The problem is the “Please remove item from the scanning area” when there’s nothing else in the scanning area, and the “Please place item on the belt” when it’s already there; or “please remove item from the belt” when there’s nothing there, and so on and so on.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve bailed out because the bloody thing is just sitting there complaining and won’t just let me scan, pay, and leave.

  2. Nomen Nescio says:

    making a cash register do the job of ringing up your total and taking your money is a low-skill job, yes. making it do this quickly and efficiently with few or no errors is an acquired skill that takes a fair bit of practice, like using any other complex tool.

    self-checkout lanes, by necessity, have to be designed for people who don’t spend hours every day using them. this by itself slows down the process. professional cashiers don’t need robotic voices prompting them about what the next step in the process needs to be, complete with videos to demonstrate how to do it; such crutches would in fact slow them down. of course getting professional human assistance speeds this process up, how could it not?

    • TheBrummell says:

      This. The cashier spends hours at a time scanning items past the barcode reader, placing produce on the mass balance, and choosing the order of items to make packing the bags easier (heavy, non-crushable stuff first, but spread between bags, etc.) I go shopping about once per week, so I simply don’t have the practice necessary to work that operation effectively. I avoid the self-checkout lanes at my local grocery store because it’s simply impossible to get through one without *something* going wrong, which also happens at the human cashiers but they know how to solve those problems, sometimes before I even notice a problem has occurred.

  3. The simple problem, here and nearly everywhere, is that people don’t freaking follow directions. The annoying voice says “Place your item on the belt” and they stand there holding it, or throw it at the sensor. OTOH, the instructions don’t say what they mean either, although “Touch the item” probably seems less pedantic than “Touch the picture of the item.”
    I do wish they had a “Shut up, I know how to do this” button.

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