Checking out self check-out


By Marla Boone

Contributing columnist

Here is a conversation starter more controversial than “Who did you vote for?” More timely than “What happened to Ohio State?” More thought-provoking than “Which came first … the chicken or the egg?”

And what possibly could top all these hot topics? This: should you use self check-out at the store?

Self check-out is almost always quicker than waiting for a cashier and don’t think this is some sort of weird coincidence. I am the last person on earth to see conspiracies where they don’t exist but it’s obvious Big Business is driving people to do their own product-scanning at check-out. This, naturally, sets off a vicious cycle. More people use self check-out so the stores hire fewer cashiers so more people use self check-out, ad infinitum. As an extra added bonus, if more people are doing their own check-out, then the stores hire not only fewer cashiers but also fewer baggers. This scenario does not widen employment opportunities.

The store owners must love it. Here they have engineered a one-two punch that must increase their bottom line by many zeroes left of the decimal point. To review: fewer cashiers + fewer baggers = fewer employees = smaller payrolls. One employee can oversee eight registers and, of course, you, the shopper, the consumer, the customer (who formerly was always right and now is always just a patsy) are the only person available to put those self-scanned items into a bag. So, if the bread ends up underneath the milk you are also the scapegoat.

Surely you must think and perhaps (if you are truly delusional) hazard to say out loud, if we the customers are doing all that work for the store and saving that store a zillion dollars in labor costs, the store will give a discount to those who have engendered all those cost savings. Ha ha. That is just a little journalistic humor. The store is never going to give you a discount for (a) being inconvenienced and (b) doing their work for them. If they even considered such a radical, albeit fair, move, they would soon see the error of their capitalistic ways and stop it more or less immediately. I’m all for capitalism. But it would be nice if it were tempered with just a little justice. Remember when you used to get a small discount for providing your own shopping bags? It was a great three-pronged idea. It encouraged the (hapless) customer to bring the bags, it decreased the stores’ costs, and decreased the use of plastic bags. It started out at five cents a bag. Soon that largesse was whittled down to two cents a bag. Even this was apparently considered a slippery step on the road to profit-making perdition and was done away with altogether. If you aren’t getting a discount for actively supplying the store with tangible goods, you sure as heck aren’t going to get one for labor.

As though doing the stores’ work for nothing isn’t bad enough, the self check-out kiosks are voiced by the naggiest individual on the planet. Approximately one-one hundredths of a nano-second after you scan an item, the nagger-in-chief reminds you to put the item in the bag. Why, we, the demonstrably stupid customer, would have never thought of this on our own. We would have stacked the items on our heads and carried them out to the car that way. Put the item in the bag? Genius! If the little nag in the scanner doesn’t sense that you have, indeed, placed the item in the bag, it will hold up the already frustrating process until the sole employee (who is minding seven other registers besides yours, remember) can come over and convince the little harpy that the item is in the bag, has been in the bag since before the haranguing began, and will remain in the bag because if you dare to remove an item from the bag it will be the signal for the apocalypse.

In an effort to at least appear to be concerned about what their customers/unpaid workers think of them, many stores are now including an option to take a satisfaction survey about your shopping experience. This is another genius move on the merchants’ part. It does give the appearance of caring, it does give the customer an opportunity to vent, and if you do fill out the survey, it does give that merchant your contact information so they can take the nagging element from the scanner and put it in your computer. I filled a survey out once. I was promised something … a coupon to induce me to go back to the store, fuel savings, entry into a cash sweepstakes … something. This survey allowed fewer than 1,500 characters in the comment section so the venting was, unfortunately, limited. I did manage to mention the little scam the store had going on and opted to be contacted about my comments. This, as you might guess, is a little merchant humor. Just as they are never going to give you a discount for doing their work, they are never going to contact you to listen to you beef. But they certainly will continue to sell it to you. And let you scan it yourself.

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