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Self-Checkout Lanes = Twenty Minutes of Your Life Back

Why do so many people hate the self-checkout lanes at Walmart? I’m just asking, here. I’m one of those people, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wearily pushed my overloaded shopping cart up to the front of the store, being completely exhausted to the core and willing to make a deal with the devil if I could just be teleported twenty minutes into the future where I was sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and all this shopping drudgery was well behind me. But that is just a daydream. Instead, I stand in a position in front of all the cash registers where I have the perfect vantage point to assess several things: Which lines are too crowded? Which people have too many items in their carts? Which cashiers look like trainees? Which cashiers are on their cell phones? Which cashiers are about to go to lunch? Which cashiers don’t give a damn?

At this point I notice that every self-checkout lane is empty. Crickets are heard instead of squeaking conveyor belts. The aisles leading up to them are gleaming. Makes me wonder why. I am suspicious that the rest of the customers know something I don’t. Occasionally you might see an employee zip through with a candy bar. They are in and out in a flash. Makes me wonder if they’ve really paid for their items. How could it only take a few seconds to do a transaction at Walmart? I chalk it up to tomfoolery and shenanigans, and think no more of it.

My next step on my check out journey is to narrow down my lane options to the top three that are most likely to process my order quickly: The disgruntled cashier with two customers with overloaded carts? The cashier on the cellphone with one customer but her boyfriend is hanging around talking with her? The cashier who is a trainee that keeps trying to scan a pack of gum? I need a few minutes to assess the progress of each lane. I gaze again over at the self-checkout lanes. In and out a person went with a club pack of bacon and a club pack of Twinkies. Ahhh…the breakfast of champions. He must be single. Still, again, in and out like a flash. How can that be? Maybe he left the Twinkies and bacon there for re-shops and cancelled his order. Nope. Looks like he has a bag with him.

After noticing the lines I’m assessing aren’t moving, I feel like I’m in a public service announcement for the dangers of wasting your life waiting in line. No lanes are moving and I’m trying to find my quickest escape route before I die. The panic and pressure I was feeling to get the hell out of Walmart before I ended up crying in a fetal position next to my cart and screaming for St. Jude to take me to the angels was too much to bear.

Without thinking, I abruptly sent my cart and me on a one way trip to the self-checkout lanes. The other shoppers gazed at me as if I had gone mad. I heard them whisper and buzz “She’s lost it. Those scanners are the devil’s work!” Well that also could have been my internal critic or my rumbling stomach. A bacon and Twinkie sandwich sure sounded good right about now.

The self-checkout lane is sterile and cold. The computer monitor stares at me, unblinking. I unload my cart and carefully hit the “start” button.  “Please scan first item!” I’m told by a cheerful invisible voice. I scan the item. “Please put item in the bagging area!” The cheerful but authoritative voice tells me. I put my item in the bag and jerk my hands away, afraid to touch anything I shouldn’t. “Please scan next item!” The chipper but bossy voice tells me. “Please put item in the bagging area!” I try to put the item in the bag, but it won’t fit completely. Again, I’m scolded “Please put item in the bagging area!” I jostle the item angrily until it sits in the bag. “Please scan next item!” I’m told before I can figure out what to do with the two full bags. Can I take them off the bagging area? Will I get in trouble? The cheerfully nagging voice never yelled at me about what to do in this situation.

“Please scan next item!” The computer was getting impatient. I didn’t know what punishment for non-compliance was within its arsenal of touch screen buttons, and I didn’t want to find out. I just grabbed anything I could and hurriedly found the UPC code to scan to keep the voice quiet. I crammed it into the bag before the voice could belittle me about my bagging prowess. “Please…” the voice started, but I scanned my next item before it could finish its monotone sentence. “Please…” “Please…” it kept repeating before I put the items in the bagging area. No computer was going to tell me what to do. These commands were all what I was going to do anyway. I’m getting credit for the thought.

Finally my order was through. I had to pay. I felt weird feeding my money into the machine. How easily could it suck my money in and say I never put in any? I felt completely helpless until it credited my money on the screen. Finally it spit out my change. I looked out and saw the people in the other lanes still hadn’t moved. How easily I could have still been standing at my vantage point assessing the situation, instead of taking a chance to get ahead. I could have been there twenty minutes or more at the mercy of indifferent cashiers and shoppers who wouldn’t let someone with one item ahead of their shopping cart full of miscellaneous items. I felt empowered as I put my money in my wallet. It was good to try new things! It was…”Please remove your bags!” What? “Please remove your bags!” I was still being yelled at. Even while I was soaking in my glory and empowerment I was still at the mercy of the monotone voice. “Please…” I took them off before that sentence could reach its predictably annoying end.

With bags finally in cart, I left the store minutes later. The other people waiting in line could easily be there at least twenty minutes more or longer. I really savored the idea that I had gained twenty minutes of my life that belong to me – not Walmart, not the lines, not to disgruntled cashiers and selfish shoppers.  I kind of pitied the people still waiting, even though it was their decision to wait there in the shadow of an obviously quicker way to pay. I’m convinced that perhaps my new enlightenment must have been the work of St. Jude.

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About Fortyteen Candles

oh, let's see...distinguished Gen-X'er, frustrated writer, suffocating in the confines of a small town that thinks it's a big deal. A few years ago we were home to the second largest Walmart in our state, don-cha-know. Oh, and I was voted "Most New Wave" in my senior high school year book. Actually, that last sentence alone is really everything you need to know about me.

55 responses »

  1. The only time I use the self check out is when I have just a few items and the kids aren’t with me. But you’re right, it’s like you’ve found a machine that gives you extra time in your day.

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  2. you got out of there unscathed – I was yelled at by one of those voices cause you are not supposed to lift the bags out until it tells you, and then a little Hitler watching over the self serve thing snottily told me what I was doing wrong –I shall never use another one, ever

    Reply
    • HaHaHa….they are snotty, aren’t they? I’ve been yelled at them, too. Is there some sort of class shoppers need to take to master this computer system? I don’t blame you for never using one again. In an ideal world, I’d never shop at a store that didn’t try to replace their human cashiers with a computer system.

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  3. I use them all the time, although I rarely go to Walmart any more. I love them and the kids love to help me scan…

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  4. I don’t think we have them in Germany, but here in the US I do HATE them. Somehow I always have the kind of items that they cannot recognize.

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  5. Dear fortyteen,

    Walmart bought one of our supermarket chains, Asda. They put a small Asda in our village, complete with EIGHT self-service machines which are overseen by staff who do it all for you. STUPID STUPID STUPID. And the three big proper checkout thingies are left unmanned and lonely. And when they’ve put your shopping through the self-service machine for you, the staff don’t say ‘Thank you. Bye,’ any more, they say ‘HAVE A NICE DAY,’ which makes me want to punch them in the face every time they say it to me.

    Love Dotty xxx

    Reply
    • Ha Ha Ha…Dotty. So they pay people to over see the machines, and the people end up doing the work anyway? Of course the cost of this fancy computer system is passed on to the customers with increased prices on the shelves. Who wins here? WHO? You think “Have a nice day” is bad? Here’s something that I hear in the US so much that I makes ME want to punch someone in the face: “Have a good one!” What on earth?!? What is the “one” they are referring to? Maddening! At least they haven’t put THAT in the computer program yet at the self-service checkouts.

      Reply
  6. What a great post! Cannot tell you how many times I have been in those shoes. Here are two posts that you might really enjoy:

    http://catnipoflife.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/the-original-text-message/

    http://teepee12.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/beautiful-blogger/

    Have a better shopping trip next time:>)

    Reply
  7. I use them all the time, especially the ones at the library … saves me from having to hide the covers of my girly romance novels from bored teenage library volunteers!

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  8. It’s like the experience of so many who are not “digital natives” when you need a quick tutorial on stuff, and the young person involved winds up sighing, pushing your hand off the mouse, and saying, “Just let me do it!” More sighing.

    Reply
    • Ha Ha Ha! I know! It’s like you don’t want to disappoint the worker who oversees the machines. And when they do have to help, they skulk over with a look like they just bit into a sour lemon. Nice!

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  9. LOL! I came to the same realization at the grocery store a few years ago and have maximized use of the self-checkout ever since. Savor the little victories!

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  10. I hate them. Absolutely hate them. First because they put people out of jobs. Secondly because I am now paying the store to do their labor and it pisses me off. They want me to do my own checking out? Then they can discount me the minimum wage for the time it takes me.

    But I also avoid Walmart and other stores that have them.

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  11. I won’t use them either, because they do put people out of jobs. And, I feel I do enough menial tasks already.

    One of our local supermarkets now allows you to take a portable scanner with you and scan while you shop. I have no idea how they guard against theft, but they must have some mechanism in place for doing so. A friend of mine loved it. I asked her if she gets an employee discount for using the scanner. She said she had never thought about the fact that she was doing a job and not being compensated, as well as possibly costing someone a job. She stopped using this system.

    But I understand the allure.

    Reply
    • Yes an employee discount seems like a good idea to say the least! It’s hard to not use one when your options are slim of getting out of the store within the hour. I can take fifteen minutes to shop and end up waiting in line for twenty! They never have any lanes open with humans, and those are with dozens of people waiting. Why do stores have forty lanes and two are open with humans? Argh! They need to be honest with themselves and have only two check outs, then.

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  12. There is nothing better than self check out. I would take an extra twenty minutes to go through one if t meant that I could go through the store without having to speak to anyone.

    But “putting people out of work” is a neat argument that I love to have…

    Reply
  13. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    I’ve recently braved the self-check lines, and yes, the computer voice is impatient and rude to me. I keep waiting for it to mess up someday and not charge me–hopefully when I’m purchasing more than a single box of Twinkies.

    Reply
    • How can you buy just ONE box of Twinkies? Please. Unless it is an industrial sized club pack. Hopefully you’ll add on some Suzy Q’s…drool…Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. If the computer would make a mistake and NOT charge you then by all means they should be used! Even if it is a slight, very distant possibility. Like playing the lottery. I’d chance it!

      Reply
  14. I’ve tried those self-checkouts. They’re very popular where we live. I’m always amazed at how tricky it is to find the bar code when there’s a line of people behind you. Talk about pressure.

    Reply
    • Pressure, indeed! They should have a bar available to those who are using the self-checkout lanes. You could sip on some wine and scan away. However, drunk cashering might not be to anyone’s advantage. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea. But the last thing you’ll worry about is the people behind you in line! Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  15. You have spoken to the heart of my pain….as if it’s not enough to actually get to the shops and move up and down lanes and then lift things into your trolley…then you have to take them out of the trolley and onto the thingymagiggy AFTER WAITING YOUR TURN and I can NEVER pick the quick lane…then you have to lift all the bags from the trolley into your car and from the car into the house and then from your bench into your cupboard and then get em out and cookem….yeh I tell you torture is alive and well in this time.!!! I use those bloody do-it-yourself things and just the other day I had to re-do the entire shop cos the machine broke down….yep it broke down….then I broke down!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 😦

    Reply
    • Yes! You and I both have heartache due to these self-checkout machines. The drugery of shopping, and then checking out, is almost too much for anyone to bear! I think everything should just be ordered on the internet. Don’t they have online stores for anything now? I don’t know how produce would survive being sent UPS ground across country. But if it means I can stay in my pajamas, free of pressure of the self-checkouts, they it should be given the benefit of the doubt. Sorry abuot your breakdown! Hope you are better, now:)

      Reply
  16. I use them all the time purely because I’m cursed and experience has taught me that which ever queue I join is bound to move at the pace of a turtle trying to cross a big avenue. Plus I can always call the machine names and all it comes back with is: Assistance needed…
    Very funny post, I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you for following.

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    • LOL! Hopefully assistance is available, and the disgruntled self checkout shepard isn’t MIA. They are a good option to have, if leaving the store in your lifetime is the plan. Thanks for your comments and kind words!

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  17. I use Walmart’s online shipping for paper goods and cleaning supplies. For more than $45 of stuff, they ship it to your door for free. UPS is now my Wallyworld middleman. I’m disabled, so the less stuff I have to lug out of my car’s trunk and dump on the living room floor to sort, the better. 🙂 Otherwise, I’m nearly dead after a trip to the store. But I digress….

    I don’t like those things either. I don’t like being told the obvious, and I want the mysteries solved faster than it is willing to do. I do get a little thrill with the scanning however. And I’ll deny that if I’m quoted…LOL.

    Reply
    • You can’t beat free shipping! Say no more. If they can deliver it right to your door, why not? A scanning thrill-seeker? LOL, I think I get a little tachycardic at the thought as well. And I’ll deny that, too:) Thanks for your comments!

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  18. i used to work at a grocery store, so when i see someone staring in front of the self checkout with a blank stare while the register yells at them, i just go over there and start doing it for them. it’s a lot faster for everyone involved.

    Reply
    • Well, thank you for being so kind. That might have been me. Seriously, you were really acting as a teacher showing them how to do it. I’m sure everyone involved was appreciative and better off for it. Although it must have been frustrating for you to have to see blank-faced shoppers looking like deer in the headlights at the self-checkouts all day!

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  19. I hate being yelled at by that stupid voice! I learned a trick. Sometimes, if you start scanning without pushing the “start” button, the Annoying Woman Voice will leave you alone.

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  20. Pingback: You get what you pay for, and most times a little less « Ad-libb3d

  21. I feel intimidated by these machines. I used one once – and yes, I was shouted at !

    At my local Tesco store, the self-checkout machines are grouped together in a fenced off area. At busy times, you have to have your wits about you and be pretty agile on your feet to avoid using them – store personnel patrol the manned check out queues trying to waylay any unwary shoppers and herd them into the self-check corral !

    Beads of perspiration running down their brows furrowed in concentration, eyes darting here, there, and everywhere, and twitching fingers – the poor trapped souls are a picture of misery

    They may gain some time, but is the stress really worth it ?

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  22. I nominated you for a Seven Things About Me award –check it at http://peachyteachy.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/can-i-make-up-new-blog-award-rules/
    You may do forty teen if that is more comfortable. . .

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    • Wow…that is so cool! Thank you for the nomination! I’ve been so lucky to have received several nominations recently, but I’ve been too busy to organize my official acceptance of them. You are too kind!

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  23. ha ha ha… I love the self-check-out lane. If I’m shopping with my kids, they won’t let me go in a regular lane as it’s play-time for them. Takes longer to check-out, but they love it.

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  24. Ha ha. I only use the self checkout if I don’t have too many groceries. Also, no produce (don’t want to deal with codes) and no alcohol (because you’ll need to get approval from employee). That could take a lot of extra time. That voice is persistent, isn’t it? I especially dislike the voice when it tells me to “Remove item from the bagging area.” They need to fix that!

    Reply
  25. i used to use these all the time because i’m extremely impatient and don’t care to make with the chit chat…that is until i realized hey “i’m doing someone’s job wtf?” and might actually put someone out of job because of it, i felt like store owners pulled a fast one on me….now i just suck it up and have figured out who the quick efficient cashiers are and always go to them.

    Reply
    • Yes, it really is more than just finding the quickest way out of the store. It is an ethical issue. Almost too heavy to deal with when you just want to pay for your stuff and leave! Thanks for your comments!

      Reply

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