Putting an End to Mandatory Self-Checkout (Opinion)

Self-checkout was supposed to be wonderful for grocery stores and big box retailers. But after about a decade of the technology, it’s completely failing with at least 67% of consumers having issues with the checkouts. And yet, retailers and grocery stores across the country are attempting to force consumers to use a technology which at least 25% of consumers absolutely hate. It’s time to take a stand against these retailers, and make them realize how much consumers truly hate this technology.

So what happened? Why are self-checkout machines so terrible? The most common reason is loss prevention. Self-checkouts have bagging areas which measure the weight of items after they’re scanned, and completely lock out the customer from proceeding with the transaction if there’s a mismatch. While this sounds great in theory, it’s terrible in practice because of mis-calibrated scales and items simply not weighing what they’re supposed to. This results in the all-too-familiar “unexpected item in bagging area” or similar message. The customer then has to wait for the attendant to come clear the error, but this will often take longer than waiting in line for a cash register because the attendant is already busy helping at least three other people with the same error message.

Recently our local grocery store installed self-checkouts which appear to be regular cash registers until you get up to them and realize there’s no employee there. I’ve personally witnessed confusion on behalf of other customers as they unload their cart onto the belt and then stand there bewildered why no cashier is assisting them.

While it’s great that 50% of consumers prefer self-checkout, there are a percentage of us who have had too many bad experiences with the machines, and prefer a human cashier. This especially holds true when items ring up at the wrong price, for example I recently had some fruit ring up at $100 instead of $10, because the barcode scanner read the barcode wrong. The cashier was able to quickly correct the mistake, and I didn’t have to go through the hassle of proceeding with the transaction then going to customer service and requesting a charge back.

So how do we the consumers fight back against the increasing forced usage of self-checkout? Show retailers and grocery stores that we’re not going to use the machines, and how much it’s going to cost them.

Tonight I went to my local grocery store, and for the first time there was no human cashier available, only self-checkout. I even confirmed with an employee if there were any cashiers available, and she said there was not. So, I left my cart with the employee, and went elsewhere. Now not only is the grocery store out several hundred dollars in sales, but the store now has to devote an employee to putting my entire shopping cart back on the shelves, including my frozen items before they thaw. That same employee who now has to put items back could have instead been running a cash register, and the store would have had several hundreds more dollars in sales that night.

I’d like to encourage others to take the same approach to forced self-checkout. If there are no cashiers, and you absolutely hate self-checkout, make this opinion known to the manager or customer service desk, give them your cart of items, and leave. Then be sure to also contact their corporate contact on their website, so that the company is aware of this issue as well.

If enough consumers stand up to forced self-checkout, the companies will have to bring back cashiers, or lose money in the process.

I’m fully willing to embrace self-checkout. But that self-checkout needs to work better than it currently does, before I’m willing to use it. Consumers shouldn’t be forced to use broken technology.

Opinion article by Ken Buckler, President and Managing Editor of Radio Free Hub City. Opinions may not neccessarily reflect the views of RFHC or its sponsors. But you know who doesn’t have self-checkout? Your local mom-and-pop store. Shop local.

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