I used to think it was just me.
Every time I flew through London’s Heathrow Airport, I would buy fine British chocolate and quirky political magazines from an airport shop.
Then hell would begin. I had to go through the self checkout as there was only one human checkout – and only sometimes.
I was pretty skilled at scanning the items. It’s not difficult to find the barcode. But then the machine would ask me to scan my boarding pass. Every time I tried, I got the answer: seek help.
Then I’d have to wait for a real human to sort things out so I could get my first bite of a British Mars bar.
I also struggled with self-checkout in supermarkets for a long time. The basic equipment was fine. But when it came to weighing bananas or other fresh produce, finding the tick box to tick “organic” or not, I found myself tending to cry.
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That didn’t feel any easier. In fact, it felt like work.
My experiment didn’t last long. I went straight back to the real human cashier who actually knew how to do it.
However, I was sure that I was in the minority. Surely much of the app-dependent global community was now quite happy not to talk to anyone, scan their stuff, and then leave.
But then I saw a video taken in the UK supermarket Tesco. Only one human line was open, as a glitch had disabled all other human-manned lanes.
However, the self-checkouts were reportedly all still working. And nobody used them.
In this particular case, some reports suggest that this supermarket recently introduced self-checkout, and this was sort of a protest.
I’m wondering if these self-checkouts only save time if you buy a simple thing or two and there is no express line or the express line is long.
Not long ago, research showed that 67% of people have experienced a mistake at the self-checkout.
Worse, it seems these machines could soon reach the level of reliability of a McDonald’s ice cream machine. They’re not cheap and they break. And – you’ll never believe it – theft seems to be higher at self-service checkouts than at those where a human could see what you’re doing.
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I know you’ll tell me that Amazon has shown with its Go stores that people can just come in, take and go while cameras watch their every move. I went to one in Chicago and it was deeply soulless. And very limited in scope.
Supermarkets may sniff that it is difficult to hire staff, the self-checkout is faster, and please, dear customer, move with the times. The pandemic has also pushed more people to pay themselves to avoid human interaction.
But for me, at least, going to the supermarket is a local, personal experience. I like to chat with the cashier if they feel like it. I like to see her regularly. We trade grievances about the San Francisco Giants and share the joys of being fans of the Golden State Warriors. If they haven’t seen us in a while, they’ll wonder where we’ve been.
No machine can do that. Not yet.
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I’ve rarely seen a queue for the self-checkout in a supermarket. This could be a testament to their superior efficiency. It could also be proof that not enough people want to use these things because they find them deeply annoying.
I am sure that America’s leading intellectual Elon Musk is already working on a solution to this difficult problem.
Despite this, the first self-service checkout was installed in 1986. Don’t you feel that it is not accepted everywhere?