Whether you like it or not, self-checkout kiosks are not only here to stay, but they’re on the rise in many grocery stores, reports CNN. As a self-checkout kind of shopper, this is great news for me. But for those who lose their mind when they hear the phrase “unexpected item in the bagging area,” it probably sounds like a new realm of hell.
Please calm your impending rage. No system is ever perfect, but self-checkout can be convenient from a customer point of view if you appreciate its two central benefits.
Many complaints about self-checkout stations point out that this process places more work on the customer, making it less convenient. However, the upside to doing more work is that the customer now has full control of the transaction from start to finish, and to me, that trade-off is worth it.
CNN cited a 2003 Nielsen survey as the reasoning behind some grocery stores (including Costco) moving away from self-checkout in the early 2000s. That survey found that “52% of shoppers considered self checkout lanes to be ‘okay,’ while 16% said they were ‘frustrating.’” Flash forward to more recent years, and a 2021 report from Raydiant, a digital signage company, found that 85% of consumers think self-service kiosks are faster than waiting in line and 60% would choose self-checkouts over store associates if given an option.
As a customer who does use self-checkout often, I can attest to the perception that scanning and bagging items myself is faster. Although CNN writes that there is “little evidence to support” this perception, maybe it’s partially due to the fact that self-checkout transforms the time my groceries take to get scanned into “active” instead of “passive” waiting time.
Plus, with a self-checkout kiosk I am able to bag my groceries in the exact way I want. Bread and eggs here, chips and snacks over there, and I can separate my roommate’s items from my own before I even leave the store. If only one bag needs double-bagging, I can make that happen without having to specify to someone else. If I have any questions, I can ask the friendly self-checkout attendant, who still oversees the process and assists with technical glitches.
Perhaps most importantly, if a self-checkout transaction takes longer than I anticipated, I only have myself or a machine to blame, rather than getting frustrated with a worker who is just doing their best.
I’m sure the cashier is perfectly nice. You’ll probably get a smile, they’ll ask how you’re doing, and they’ll wish you a nice day when everything is said and done. But the pressure to follow the script of that polite interaction is not something I personally look forward to doing.
Just thinking about that moment when I pay in cash and the cashier hands back the bills and the coins and the receipt as I fumble to shove it all into my pocket or purse as quickly as possible so as not to hold up the growing line behind me—it all makes me cringe deeply. And yes, I know that is likely a sign that I lack a certain degree of social skills, but that’s my prerogative.
Sometimes you just want to go to the grocery store, peruse the aisles, pay, and bag up your groceries undisturbed. I am in a meditative state at this point. Some people soak in a bubble bath. I like to buy turkey bacon and a massive jar of pickles without speaking to anyone.