Should You Use the Self-checkout?

I have written several times about the victories and defeats that happen each and every time I set foot in a grocery store–which is a minimum of four times a week–but there’s one thing I can no longer stay silent about.

Well, there are many things I can’t stay silent about, but this one is tops on the list–the self-checkout lane.

What should be an easy process–get in line, scan, pay, leave–is complicated by the fact that a) machines are machines and b) most people are not in fact smarter than the machine and make me question the whole theory of evolution.

So because I’m a helper, I have created a series of simple questions that will determine whether or not you should use the self-checkout lane.


1. Can you count to 12? 

First of all, I’m referring to the Express self-checkout lanes. The sign says 12 items or less. It does not say, “Everything you can stick in the small-ass cart you chose instead of regular cart.”

And that does not refer to the number of item types, but the actual item count. For example, those 35 cans of soup that took you 15 minutes to pick out does not count as a single item. You are not a special snowflake. If everybody ignored this rule, it would just be a regular line.

So if you can’t count to 12, go through that regular line.

2. Can you form a straight line? 

In most cases, there are two sets of checkouts–three on each side. This does not mean that a line forms behind each one. There is one line–ONE LINE–that forms in the middle behind these two rows of machines.

And this is the important part: If you’re the first person in line, do not stand eight feet away from the middle of the two sides of checkouts, therefore blocking the rest of the floor for all the other shoppers and causing the line to snake all the way back through the produce section.

One line. A couple feet back from the registers. Not complicated.

3. Can you find the barcode on a product or match a picture on the screen to your product?

In order to scan an item, you have to scan the barcode. Find the barcode, scan it, and move on with your life. If there is no barcode, as is often the case with produce, they provide a menu on the screen that looks like a children’s matching game. See banana? Press banana button.

Yay! Look at you!

4. Can you put items in a bag?

You must place your scanned item in the bag. If you actually remembered to not only bring your reusable bag from home but also remembered to bring it into the store–showoff–use it and bypass trying to open the plastic bags provided (pretty good call.)

Either way, place the item in the bag. That’s it. If you put it back into your small-ass cart, the voice will yell at you that “an item has been removed.” If you place it there before you scan it, it will yell that there is an “unexpected item in bagging area.”

It’s all about timing. Scan. Place in bag. Proceed.

5. Can you flatten money to insert into the slot?

The voice coming out of the machine gives you two clear options–swipe card on the PIN pad or insert cash. That’s it. They’re telling you what to do. Don’t act surprised and look around, don’t pull out a wad of crumpled bills and expect them to be accepted, and don’t ask if you can write a check. 

You will always have to pay for your groceries. Swipe, insert bills, get a gold star. And seriously? A check? 

6. Can you move along when you’re done?

If there is a long line behind you, do not stand there when you’re done and read your receipt and all 300 extra pieces of paper that get pumped out of the printer with it like it’s a treasure map. There is nothing on that paper that is so important that you need to throw on the brakes and cause a backup.

Shuffle up a few feet and by all means, feel free to make a day out of your perusal. Just don’t block the now-vacant machine. Move it along there, buddy.

So I think that sums things up.

If you answered “no” to any of the questions above, reflect a bit on your limits, swallow your pride, and proceed to the nearest employee-manned checkout. 

Don’t be a hero.

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40 responses to “Should You Use the Self-checkout?

  1. Yes, yes. One thousand times yes. I wish there were a law that the next person in line could make a citizens arrest of the person with 26 items in the 12-item-or-less line. I’d be making multiple trips a week to the police station.

  2. HAHAHAHHAA! Sentiments shared, I usually end just helping those infront of me and wonder if I should ask the mart to give me some cashback for helping!

  3. I love all of this! I think I am really going to enjoy your blog! 🙂

  4. Abby, you are my spirit animal. Greeting from the midwest. I am in tears from reading this and your twitter feed! Thanks for a great start to my day. Looking forward to reading more! You’re very talented.

  5. Seriously, a check? I always want to ask those people how things are in 1981.

    • lol!! I take phone payments as part of my job, and it always surprises me when I’m told, “Oh no, I won’t use a debit card!” I guess their head might explode or something!?

  6. This is brilliant! Totally made me laugh!

  7. Don’t be a hero. That’s excellent advice for A LOT OF situations! Thanks for a BIG laugh, Abby!

  8. Once again, you have put my thoughts to print. The only time I can comfortably use self-checkout is early in the morning when few people are in the store. Otherwise, I want to throat punch someone. In addition to your observations, let me add one regarding my area grocery store. Could they put a cashier/helper person at the self-checkouts who can actually pay attention?! Every time I go to use self-checkout, they have this one cashier who appears to have a hearing loss because when the screen says, “Attendant has been notified to assist you,” this cashier obviously doesn’t hear or perhaps she just doesn’t know she is the attendant. I’ve gotten into stare downs with this woman and she does not move to help. She also likes to wander away from the area at precisely the moment someone needs her. She loves her coworkers because she spends more time talking to them than helping customers. And can you say “slow”? If I didn’t know better, I would think she just finished training. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I am now conditioned to go through a regular line behind people with full carts, just to avoid the self-checkout lady.

  9. Hahaha. I hate the self checkout line. It’s almost more of a pain in the butt when people can’t figure it out!

  10. You hit a nerve here! I hate when the scanner won’t scan….and the attendant acts like you are bothering her when you have to ask her to come over and “unlock” the machine.

  11. Loooool! I normally use the self checkout when I buy food for school in the morning. If something doesnt scan, and I have to call a worker, they act so rude, like brah you work here how the hell are you meant to earn money if you dont DO anything?

  12. I love this! Just realized this weekend that my husband should not be allowed in self checkout. While he futzed with our eight items and couldn’t figure out how to put them in the bags, I stood behind him rolling my eyes. “Do you want me to do that for you?” “NO I’M FINE.”

  13. I am a cashier at a large grocery chain and have all the same gripes about the self-checkouts as these, plus much of the time the things break down because people don’t read the notices posted (such as “No Cash Back” because a machine is out of change ) These people go ahead and insert cash or their card, expecting change of course… and then cry to us that it’s not working! That again holds things up for other customers in line since we clerks have to call management to open the box and retrieve their change. In most cases, I will simply give them their change from my cash drawer, but it still holds up the line until the machine can be reset! Not fun.

  14. Slays me that the store makes money on self checkouts, I do all the work and they don’t have to pay me a cent!

  15. Don’t be a hero. Priceless.

  16. Fantastic post! Reminds me of someone I saw recently. Here in New Zealand, there is no item limit (that I know of) in the self checkout lines, but when I spotted this person with a FULL trolley of goods, I knew leaving the girlfriend in the car for 5 more minutes was going to be worth the show.

    Needless to say, she struggled, managed to anger the machine several times (unexpected item in bagging area and such) and pretty much kept the store’s check out assistant busy the entire time.

    I wish I bought popcorn.

  17. Things are very slightly different in England, but then again oh-so-very-similar. Two more hates from me. People who don’t search for their money until long after the cashier has finished. People who use their mobile phone while at the checkout. Oh, and, people who don’t look where they are going and ram you with their shopping cart…. and…., Nice blog. Kudos

  18. I hate hate hate hate using the self checkout. I just want someone to scan my groceries! They don’t even have to bag them, I like doing that myself.

    Boyfriend, on the other hand, loves the self checkout. So when we’re in the store together, he’ll opt for it and inevitably something will go wrong and we’ll need someone to come over and he gives me this “I know, I know” look.

  19. Love. It. Could you petition to post these in actual stores? Not that people would read the guidelines (much like that 12 items or less sign), but a girl can dream…

  20. I kind of hate the people who bring their own bags to the self-checkout, because half the time the computer deems your reusable bag an “unexpected item in bagging area” before you’ve even started and then five minutes is wasted trying to convince the dumb machine that you are not, in fact, trying to shoplift your own property.

    My store has added an “I have my own bag” option on the start screen to try and address this issue, but you know how people hate to read…

  21. amazing, like you got into my head and put my thoughts online 😀

  22. Oh, you have captured the essence of grocery shopping.

  23. I am constantly amazed that people still use checks. ESPECIALLY at self-checkouts. I want to shake them and scream “WHERE DO YOU THINK THE CHECK WOULD GO? USE YOUR BRAIN!”. Great post. 🙂

  24. THANK GOD my store changed the self check out from one side of express and one side regular to all regular…and because it used to be that way the single line in the middle was not working! I rarely have 12 items or less and i ALWAYS use the self checkout!! Why would I want some idiot bagger to pack my bags all jacked up? Seriously, shampoo in the bag with bananas…and hey, that’s my cold bag, don’t put paper products in there, that’s for the COLD items. Sheesh

  25. “You are not a special snowflake.” Great line! I live in Europe. #2 never works no matter where I go. There’s just no such thing as queuing up.

  26. I have to take this moment to brag and say that every time I go through a self-check out, I rethink my career plan. I’m thinking maybe nursing isn’t for me. I was meant for a life of swiping bar codes and asking for Air Mile cards.

  27. This was SO Funny. But I think you already knew that.

  28. I was at value village today and people could not figure out the line situation. It was ridiculous. I was literally shouting to people- Hey they are ready for you at register one! and watching the stupid people roam around like cattle and the checkers wave them down like they were relying on their arms for visibility. I wanted to cut in front of everyone and say “if you can’t figure out the line, you can’t check out. Done.”

  29. Can you scream loudly when you are all done and the screen says “Please have an associate assist you”? (Why don’t they just fix the darn things? Week after week after week. Customer after customer…)

  30. Yes!!!

  31. I like to use the self-checkout when possible because it helps me avoid having to unexpectedly talk to someone I don’t know. But it never works out well for me. I can do all of the steps above, but the bagging part messes me up every time… I will put it on the thing to soon or take it off too soon. OR I will have something in my cart that can’t be scanned and requires me to wait for assistance. It is all very stressful!

  32. Number 2 is interesting. I always see at least one line for each row of self check-outs. I never thought there should be just one line to rule them all.

    Who writes a check? I’ll tell you: The Dude, at the beginning of The Big Lebowski wrote a check for $0.69 for a carton of half-and-half at Ralph’s. That was back in the early nineties around the time of our (first) conflict with Saddam and the Iraqis. Maybe that example no longer applies.

    One final point. Every self-checkout is at least one lost job for a grocery store clerk. Efficiency = cheaper groceries for all of us, but lower employment also. Beware: first the machines came for the lower-skilled jobs, now they are coming for the higher-skilled data analysts and such. Let’s not feed the beast!

  33. You are a women after our own heart!

  34. Oh my you are hysterical! I cannot stop laughing! You need to get out of my head! LOL!!!!

  35. sideways eyeballs looking know that look..when you’ve got maybe two cans of the same thing bumping it over. c’mon, confess, you know that look i do 😉

  36. Pingback: Funniest Moms On The Internet, Volume 6 - Toulouse and Tonic

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