The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

Yes, today is a book giveaway. But first . . .

Have you noticed more and more self-checkout lanes recently? I have. I used to think self-checkout lanes were the next best thing since the invention of Reese’s peanut butter cups. After all, I could check my groceries quickly and go home to eat my Reese’s peanut butter cups. (Who am I kidding? I usually start on those as soon as I reach the car.)

walmart-self-checkout Reeses

But Self-checkout Lanes, I’m no longer feeling you, know what I mean? Because now I wonder if your population has increased to allow a company to get away with hiring fewer employees or laying off some. 😦

I recently walked into the branch of my bank and saw three employees. This branch had five times that amount a couple of years ago. Of the three, one quickly steered me toward using the ATM to make a deposit, instead of expecting him to do it. I’m not sure what else he planned to do, since I was the only customer in the bank. Perhaps give his full attention to the businesses making deposits in the drive-thru? Only people with business accounts are allowed to use the drive-thru. Makes me feel like a valued customer.

ATM Machine

Afterward, I shopped at a store with a ton of self-checkout lanes. The express lanes were closed to push people toward the self-checkout lanes. Meanwhile, a dozen employees raced about. Some stocked shelves. Some simply stood there, speaking into walkie-talkies. But none asked me if I needed help. So if the self-checkout lanes were set up to allow employees more time to help shoppers looking for items in the store, well, let’s just say I found Siri to be more helpful. I’ve had retail jobs. I know how difficult working with the public can be. But when a store seems to go out of its way to avoid dealing with me, I’m tempted to shop elsewhere.

The library installed more self-checkout machines. A librarian quickly pointed one out when I approached the circulation desk. I wanted to ask her, “Are you trying to point your way out of a job?” But I decided not to. I’m fairly certain I would be told how much more important other tasks are than checking out books. But if checking books out for a patron means one more librarian keeps his or her job, I would be all for that.

(By the way, I am aware of how hard librarians work. I have friends who are librarians. Believe it or not, I have applied for jobs at libraries and would have been more than happy to be the book checker.)

I’m reminded of a scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In that scene, Mr. Bucket lost his job to a machine at the toothpaste factory.


If you’re thinking, Don’t guilt trip me. I love using self-checkout lanes, rest assured that no one is interfering with your right to use those lanes. Labor-saving devices may save time and money. But I have to wonder if in the long run they’ll cost us more than we save.

Now let’s move on to the winner of Kate Sparkes’s fantasy novel, Torn. Click here for the interview with Kate.

torn_full  Kate author photo 4

That winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to let me know if you’d like a print copy or an ebook!

Thank you to all who commented.

Peanut butter cups image from Wal-Mart self-checkout lanes from Noah Taylor as Mr. Bucket from Rotten ATM machine from classroom

62 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

  1. I already have the eBook of it, but I know someone who would like a hard copy. Unless me already having it in some form means someone else should be the winner. Not sure how this works.

    Self-checkout lanes are strange creatures these days. I remember being the cashier for them at Home Depot and it was so boring. You stand there and hit a button to stop it from complaining over everything. Then you go to help a customer who is trying to get something too big on there or simply doesn’t get the thing. My favorite were the people who kept putting their purses on the weight sensor and getting confused when it yelled at them for an object there. I guess I understand it in a retail setting for people with a few items like 10-12. Gets really strange when I see a person with a full cart of food go in there and struggle to fit everything on the machine. It’s just a mess these days.

    I agree with the bank thing too, but over this new thing that I’ve seen. It isn’t an ATM, but a box that is supposed to do everything that a teller can do. So the bank near me has put a decorative wall around most of the old teller windows and left maybe 5 accessible. Out of those only 2 tend to be used with possibly a 3rd for a person to do busy work. It feels abandoned and they keep suggesting this machine, which requires an employee to explain it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the employee do it at a counter instead of trying to walk you through a temperamental machine? Some days I think we’re getting too lazy and removing the tiny things in our lives just to feel like we’re making progress.

    • Since you were chosen as the winner, it’s up to you to accept it or reject it. If you’d still like the print copy, I can have that sent to you. Would you like it?

      I get more and more aggravated when machines replace real employees. Maybe the real employees would complain about the customers. I’ve worked at Sears and my local grocery store. I’ve been a receptionist and an editor having to deal with customer complaints. I get it. Not always pleasant. But yes, I would rather see a human being with a job than a machine.

      I realize that many people demand more self-checkouts so they can be on their merry way. But as someone who has been unemployed a number of times, there’s another side to the machine saga!

      • Honestly, I think I’d like someone else to get it since I already have it. Feels like the right thing to do.

        Also you end up having a big problem if the machines go down. A machine can’t suddenly switch to manual if the power goes out, so the one or two humans on registers end up getting swamped.

      • Okay. I have a runner-up in this case. Will email her then. 🙂
        So often I’ve seen two employees standing over a broken machine while the line grows. I find it interesting that in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Bucket obtained a job fixing the machine that replaced him.

      • That was a fun piece of irony or whatever it was. Though I still can’t forgive that movie for the horrible Oompa Loompas. Could never understand what they were singing.

      • Ha ha! Everybody says that about the Oompa Loompas! I wonder if the producers wish they could have rethought the casting process.

      • I wish that were likely. I didn’t see Maze Runner nor did I read the books. But I’ll just bet they divide the last book into two movies.

      • Good for them. Glad they didn’t bow to the pressure. I probably won’t watch any of the movies till they come out on blu-ry/DVD.

      • Might be seeing the second this Friday. Wondering if they aren’t splitting the finale because there’s been some backlash to doing it. Even when Harry Potter did it.

      • I liked it. The end was a little shaky, but it was fun. Definitely had a different feel than other dystopian movies or whatever they’re called. There wasn’t much of the ‘chosen one has arrived and we love him’ stuff. More like ‘this guy just ruined everything and we don’t care if it had to be done’.

      • When I get back in the mood for that sort of thing, I’ll check it out. I’m catching up with Sleepy Hollow on Netflix now.

      • I’m saving myself for the last Hunger Games. 🙂 I’ve read enough YA dystopian books to last me while. I’m reading a lot more middle grade books now that I’m writing middle grade.

      • L. Marie,

        Love your blog. I’ve recently signed up.
        I have a question, you have a beautiful image post of some grass with a blue sky. Really breath taking. Is it possible to get permission to use it. I have an animation image for a song and it’d look great at the bottom of the artwork.

        Thanking you in advance

      • Hi, David. If I took the photo, you’re welcome to use it. However, since I’m not sure which image you mean, I might have picked it up from or somewhere else online. I usually include image attributions at the bottom of my blog.

  2. Too much here for me to comment on without becoming a soapbox…but ya know, love those reeses, too! And if reeses wants us to continue buying their product, businesses should be aware people need jobs to make the money to do so…just sayin’…

  3. I interact with cashiers and tellers.
    I try to make them laugh or smile.
    Especially if they seem grumpy.

    I can’t do that with self-checkout machines.

    Congrats to Charles!

    • So true, Nancy. It’s nice to interact with a human. The machine just barks out orders. “Please put your item in the bag.” “Please take your change.”

  4. Self-checkout has its place, especially when you’re in a hurry and know what you want. Lol, shop attendants shouldn’t imagine everyone wants to be escorted or ‘shooed’ to the machine. Sometimes, how may I help you?, is the right response.

  5. Congratulations, Charles! Sometimes the self check out lines seem to take longer. There’s always a price issue or someone can’t find the right button to push for their produce or the scanner can’t read the barcode……I still prefer a real live person’s help with my purchases. I haven’t been in my bank in ages, always use my ATM (I wonder if I’m allowed to transact with a teller). I haven’t been in the library all summer so I’m curious if we have self checkout there, too. On to important things, Love Reese’s PB cups! 🙂

    • Welcome back from your trip! I’m sure you’ll have some wonderful stories to tell!

      I’ve noticed the length of the self-checkout lines. At the stores near me, because they’ve closed the ten-item lines, everyone who only had ten items or less are forced to go to the self-checkout lines or endure the wait behind several people with full carts. Meanwhile I saw two employees standing around. 😦

  6. Congrats to Charles!

    I’m not a fan of self-checkout lines either. One, for the reason you cited–are they taking jobs? And two, because something always goes wrong with them. Never fails–I’m in the grocery store, scanning my items, and ultimately something won’t go through, and I have to wait for help anyway. Grr.

  7. My one, and only, encounter with a self checkout almost made the evening news!
    First of all, I do not like self checking. I think it has and will continue to take jobs away. I enjoy talking with the checkers; well, at least those who make eye contact. We have a friendly crew at the local Jewel who really do engage in actual conversation, though I shop other grocers as well. I digress.
    It was about 4, maybe 5 years ago. I had about three items, the lines were long, and I thought I would give the self-check lane a try. First few items went well, then, the cantaloupe. I could not figure out to scan it. It was a very large cantaloupe. Finally, a young man came over and said, rather imperiously, “do this and then this”, which I did, but, nothing happened, so, I kept doing it. Mr. Imperious suddenly came rushing over “Lady, you’ve now rung up over $1,000.00 for one cantaloupe. It will take me an hour to correct this!”. I think I may have been the reason Dominick’s went out of business.

    • Oh Penny. What a story! Those grocery store checkout lanes are notorious for breaking down, especially with fruit and vegetable items that either don’t have a sticker you can scan or have weird pricing. Half the time, even if you go to a cashier, something goes wrong and a price check is needed.

      There’s a rumor that a Whole Foods might go in the empty Dominick’s near me.

      • Whole Foods has taken up two Dominick’s near me or on my route here and there and everywhere. They are both big and wondrous, usually too expensive, but, I still like to go in for items only Whole Foods seems to have and, honestly, just to enjoy the experience. Marianno’s took the place of the Dominick’s cantaloupe caper. it is smaller than the others, but, very homey.

        I was making a deposit, one of the few these days, :(, and a teller came out to show me how to use the ATM to make deposits. I said a similar quip to her as yours – “you know, this is taking away your job?”. Sigh. L. Marie, I’m still one of those dinosaurs that brings in a big jar of change to be tallied. ha

      • So am I, Penny. I usually drag a bag of pennies in. I think it’s ridiculous that someone stands there pointing to a machine! They don’t realize they’re only a pink slip away from that machine doing their job.

        So Whole Foods is taking over? I’m glad the store won’t be empty. But Whole Foods is a big high in price! They have a nice hot food section though.

      • Yes, they are taking over quite a few closed spaces. They are high in price, especially on our budgets. They seem to take their time, however, in opening the stores, not opening them all at once. so . . . I’m usually at one of the little independents around our neck of the woods. Tomorrow? I need to take my change in. 🙂
        You always stir up the most interesting of conversations and get me to thinking. Thank you.

      • Aww. Thank you for commenting.
        I have some change that I need to take in. But my branch is lacking in customer service right now. . . .
        The Dominick’s near me is still empty. I’m not sure Whole Foods is the best store for the location, however. This is not a high-income area.

  8. I’m not a fan of self-check out. I like to take note of the cashier’s name take and attempt to gather fodder. You can’t do that with a machine.
    These days companies only care about the bottom line…somehow customer service doesn’t make the cut.

    • It’s sad. I can understand the need to make money. But at what cost? In the long run they’ll lose more than they gain. Especially when you hear about CEOs vacationing on islands while their workers take paycuts.

  9. Yes, I do think they’re just a way of getting rid of staff! So in my supermarket, just because I’m that annoying type of person, I make a fuss till they open the Express Lane even if I only have two items. And once every few months I e-mail the Head Office to complain about staff shortages… aren’t you glad you don’t run a shop near me? 😉

  10. Where are gone the amiable employees informing you and guiding you, where did fly away the smile of the cashier. We live in an impersonal world losing some of its humanity.
    In friendship

  11. I usually go to the people. But then, I usually have a lot more stuff than the average person. The people can fix things if you got something on sale and the sale price doesn’t pop up, or if there’s a discount sticker the scanner can’t read, or if something has a no-steal sticker. (Apparently, certain cuts of meat have no-steal stickers. At least here. I only get them when they need to be cooked like that day and the price is cut in half, but the sticker is still there.) There are a lot of self-check stands in several of the stores, but people don’t usually get waved that way. Sometimes. I usually just smile and nod and go to the person anyway.

    • I like to go to a person as well, especially if I have produce. But many times there’s a price issue. That’s another reason why I’m concerned about machines replacing people.

  12. I have my favorite people in the check-out lanes in the grocery store, bank, and post office. I like a chance to exchange a word or two with them. It’s so much more fun than punching a computer.

    When I lived in the Philippines, even though Filipinos are very friendly, the clerks in the stores were not friendly with foreigners. (Vendors in markets were more friendly.) So speaking to the clerks was one of the pleasures of moving back home.

    • I have my favorites too, Nicki. And these people have families. Plus, they don’t suddenly break down in the middle of a transaction! So, yeah, I’d rather see them keep a job, rather than a machine.

  13. Oh my, another Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan. When it’s the holidays and those little mini ones pop up all over the place, I’m in trouble…

    And I hear you in regards to the self-checkout phenomenon. The ones at the supermarket tend to require employee intervention for me, so maybe they won’t be getting rid of humans just yet. (“Yes, I already put the peanut butter cups in the bag you stupid machine!!”)

    • Yes, the holiday Reese’s are very dangerous. I buy a bag and watch them disappear quickly!

      I’ve noticed that the self-checkout machines need two employees at least. And then a third to hang the Out of Order sign on one of the machines.

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