Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship with Self-Checkout Stations

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You know, I don't really remember the very first time I noticed a self-checkout station at the grocery store. But having lived with them for a quite a few years now, I can tell you what I think about them:

Why I love self-checkout lines at the grocery store:
  • They provide some privacy when purchasing feminine or other intimate products I'd rather the grocer didn't see me holding - or the people with their stuff on the belt just behind me. I know my dad would have appreciated self-checkout lanes that one time my mom, sister and I were all experiencing "that time of the month" at the exact same time. We sent him in to Wal-mart for us (and he graciously accepted the dubious task), because none of us felt the in the mood to walk in and purchase only feminine hygiene products. When my dad came out with a shopping cart FULL of tampons with a few boxes in every single size, we were more than amused. In fact, we laughed so hard we cried - for about an hour. My dad's good-nature and the clerk's raised eyebrow, "Whoa! You've either got a house full of girls, or one woman in some serious need!!" gave us a story to remember forever. We were just glad we didn't have to put our faces to the purchase!
  • They allow you to pay with change - and lots of it. Just a few days ago, Squire and I went to the grocery store. We had about $17.00 in quarters that we wanted to use to make our purchase. So, rather than face a disgruntled clerk who would take a 1/2 hour to count out the change or endure rolling eyes from the customers behind us, we took our time at the self-checkout lane, laughing as we took turns stuffing the handfuls of quarters into the coin slot. And nobody was worse off for it. 
  • Sometimes, it's nice to avoid the small talk. There are times when it's nice to not have to talk to any one. To just be faceless. To go in to the store, pay for your item, and get out. When I'm in a bad mood, I appreciate having the self-checkout option.
Why I hate self-checkout lines at the grocery store:
  • They are SO much slower. I forget this almost every time. The self-checkout will be deserted, with the exception of perhaps a cricket chirping nearby. The lane with the real human being will have three carts in line. "I'm not waiting for that! I'm taking this situation into my own hands!" I think to myself. So, I get busy at my own station. After struggling for 5 minutes to search for and/or type in the produce codes on the oft times glitchy touch screen - just to ring up a bunch of bananas and a bell pepper, the annoying female voice with the echo is telling me, "Assistance has been notified to help you." And then there's this one, "Please put the item back in the bagging area," when you never took any items away from the bagging area in the first place. It then tells me, "You may now scan your next item." In frustration I retort in my mind and sometimes under my breath, "That's what I'm trying to do, but YOU, stupid machine, obviously can't read bar codes!!!" By the time I finish, I realize the human checker has already finished ringing all three of the other customers as well as a couple others I hadn't seen when I started the self-checkout process for myself. *Sigh.*
  • I miss the human interaction. While on a rare occasion, I'd rather not see anyone, for the most part I really do enjoy and prefer it. If it weren't for the old school grocery lanes, I'd have missed hundreds of smiles and inquiries, "How are you doing today?"  I'd have missed seeing familiar faces and the enjoyment of catching small glimpses of the checker's lives with the small snippets of conversation we share. I'd have missed the cute little blonde bagger girl with Down's syndrome at Provo's Macey's grocery store. I'd have missed the sassy checker with the accent from somewhere in the Eastern part of the United States. And I'd have missed plenty of jokes. I didn't know it at the time, but if it weren't for the old school grocery checkout, I would have missed that experience I mentioned with my dad earlier - and that would have meant missing out on an hour of gust-busting laughter! 
  • The small human interaction you do get through self-checkout is frustrating. It's sad but true. The human interaction you get at self-checkout is usually with a disgruntled employee (or disgruntled customer) because the machine that was designed to keep you from having to interact with anyone had failed for whatever reason. You are then brought face to face. It's awkward, inefficient, and frustrating to all involved.
This post was obviously a timely one. It seems others have been think about this issue too. Is this self-checkout tunnel the new wave key to customer satisfaction?

What do you think about self-checkout stations? Vote in the poll below, and/or leave a comment! :)

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