Sidemeat – 47th Slice
Self checkouts…they can be a welcome beacon at 2:39am when there’s not a soul to be found in the grocery store, or they can be your worst nightmare come to life when the incompetent employee teams up with elderly customer in an attempt to outwit the machine. Sometimes I love ’em, and other times I loathe ’em.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 to 15 years, you’re probably well aware of the “self checkout” area that’s now available in most discount and grocery stores. Around here, all-night grocers were among the first to invest in the technology, namely Harris Teeter stores. I worked second shift and commuted to and from school during the day at this time, so I did a fair bit of my grocery shopping between the hours of 10pm and 1am. And not that grocery stores were ever particularly crowded at those hours, but those self checkouts were a fabulous alternative to waiting for some cashier to make their way to the front.
Sure, the tech had its issues…maybe it didn’t like how much the bacon bit jar weighed or you couldn’t find kiwis on the produce screen or whatever, but these things progressed surprisingly quick and to this day the self checkouts found in grocery stores are still among the most worry-free to be found. Now of course we were all subject to the random idiot who wouldn’t quit leaning on the scale or insisted on trying to rearrange shit without the aid of the assistant, but for the most part, my experiences with self checkouts those first few years were positive. They helped save me time, especially on smaller trips, they let me see exactly what things cost, and I was able to bag stuff the way I liked. I don’t know what they teach baggers at these places, but I’ll never understand why a single bag gets one box of crackers and a candy bar while the next is filled with all 8 cans of veggies I bought, plus the jar of salsa and the bottle of ranch.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before these things started cropping up in…dun dun DUN…Walmarts! At first it wasn’t a big deal. I think most of the average Walmart shoppers were a little scared of the things, or maybe just too lazy to go over there and figure it out. I don’t know. At any rate, the Walmart version of self checkouts were clearly more persnickity than their grocery store counterparts. I guess this is because not only do they have to deal with everything from butternut squash to Ms. Buttersworth to butter-flavored popcorn, but also hair dryers, diapers, car stereos, bookshelves, Sharpies, and lawn furniture. So I guess we can allow for them to be a little temperamental, right?
Truth is I can allow for some snags with the system. The problem is mostly with the idiots who now gravitate towards the self checkouts. Sometimes, as I watch these fools fumble through their purchases, I actually try to put myself in their shoes and figure out just what course of thinking led them to choosing the self checkout. If it were up to me, people would have to pass some kind of basic competency test before they’re allowed access to the machines. Ok ok, that’s extreme, but a nice big sign would be nice…
- If you are elderly or infirm, DO NOT USE.
- If you have more than one child under the age of 13 or more than 2 children of any age with you, DO NOT USE.
- If you have a giant ass load of groceries, DO NOT USE unless you’re a bonafide self checkout veteran.
- If you have a ton of produce, and you only know how to ring it up using the pictures, DO NOT USE.
- If you’re not sure if you’ll have enough money for your bill or if you need to do some weird split payment shit, DO NOT USE.
- If you have a bunch of huge shit that takes multiple people to lift – electronics, furniture, the like – DO NOT USE.
- If you’re the type of person who finds themselves frequently in disagreements over what the price that something rings up as versus what you think it’s “supposed to cost” according to some ad or commercial or sign or coupon, DO NOT USE.
- If you’re buying age-restricted stuff and/or stuff with special locks/cases that need to be removed before purchase (video games, printer ink, etc.) DO NOT USE.
- If you’ve never used a self checkout before, don’t pick the day when your cart is full of a month’s worth of food to start. Start off with a gallon of milk and a Twix. Take it slow. It takes an expert to handle more than a handful of items.
- If you agonize over what to bag with what, DO NOT USE.
- If you use reusable bags, DO NOT USE.
- If you’re pretty damn sure you’re going to need that attendant to help you out more than once, DO NOT USE. It actually helps to assume that the attendants are useless – not to say that all of them are, but some of them (I’m convinced) know less about those machines than I do, and other times they’re off helping out people even worse off.
Does that about cover it…? I tried to distill and codify all of my negative experiences into a single list of offenses. Just the other day I was behind some woman who had 7 or 8 of those big potted plants with her and she had no idea how to ring them up. And a few days before that, I was stuck behind someone with several reusable bags who kept trying to put them in the bagging area. And of course every time she did, the machine would yell at her about “unexpected item in bagging area” so she’d shuffle shit around for a minute and then finally the attendant would realize what was going on and fix it. I watched this scenario unfold at least 4 times before another register was free for me to use, and she still hadn’t finished.
My week wouldn’t be complete without the inevitable welfare-mom encounter: $300 worth of food plus a screaming toddler restrained in the cart, a 4 year old constantly under the mom’s feet and interfering with the bagging area scales, the 6 year old who’s running around slamming his snotty little nose into every stranger’s crotch within a 20 ft radius and grabbing everything from paper clips to peanuts while mom spends half her time disarming him, and then the 10 year old who insists on being some kind of “super helper” who’s really just making mom’s job harder by handing her whatever random object she can reach in the cart. And then, inevitably, some box of wet wipes or bag of Funyun’s causes some kind of price discrepancy and the already slow process comes to a grinding halt for a few minutes.
One of the situations that drives me the most insane is the old, feeble couple who thinks they can save a couple of minutes by using the self checkout to buy their Preparation H, VapoRub, and month’s supply of Centrum Silver. Just watch them though…first they stare at the screen for a solid 2 minutes before making a move. Then the couple has a few mumbles before deciding what to do next, followed by a few pathetic attempts at using the touchscreen. It’s all downhill after that. Lots of staring…lots…and what seems like an endless consultation / possible argument before making any sort of move with the merchandise. Then there’s the fateful moment when they finally successfully scan an item, and then the computer starts talking to them, and suddenly they’re all thrown off again and you can just see them standing there, like a deer in headlights, Preparation H in hand and 100% unsure of what the hell to do next. Once they finally manage to scan everything, Round 2 begins as they figure out just how to pay this new-fangled machine. Generally, old people making small purchases want to pay in cash, so of course they have to dig their cash out, compare it to the total on the screen, figure out where to put the money, figure out where the change is coming from…and it’s downright painful to watch. And then when everything is finished they still insist on standing in front of the thing for a good 2 minutes before they’re satisfied that it’s actually all over. What goes through their minds prior to going to the self checkout? Do they just think that some kind of robot is going to handle it all?
Offenders come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, but these seem to be the most common encounters of mine, coupled with the random customer who always has to argue about a price. The attendant doesn’t know any more than the customer, nor can they really do much about the issue, so it usually involves calling some manager and digging up some stupid ad on a smartphone or sending someone to roam around the store and find some tag…more often than not, it all results in the manager explaining why said discount isn’t applicable in this situation and the customer continuing to make every ridiculous attempt in the world to save that $0.57.
The sad truth is that even after all this, these encounters are still preferable to waiting in an actual line and dealing with an actual employee about 75% of the time.
Still, one of the reasons these self checkouts became so useful is because they were available after hours. Oddly enough, stores like Walmart and Target close their self checkouts later in the evening, leading to the sorts of bottlenecks that the self checkouts were there to alleviate.
I doubt that things will change much in the near future – especially when it comes to the dummies who attempt to use these things, but perhaps over time the machines will get smarter and cause fewer roadblocks despite the idiots using them. After all, the ones at the grocery stores improved massively during those first few years and hopefully the same amount of initiative is underway with the machines dealing with all the stuff that Targets and Walmarts have to offer. Oh well, until then, I guess it’s retail hell as usual….just please, know your limitations when it comes to using the damn self checkouts.
Written by The Cubist
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