Self-checkout: why am I doing your job? The death of customer service is the beginning of your unpaid job.


With brick & mortar stores going the way of the dinosaur, wouldn’t you think those stores would be doing everything to keep their instore customers happy?  And yet we, the paying customers, are still being forced into unpaid jobs in those same stores! Self-checkout is a perfect example. My weekly food shopping is at a smaller supermarket that has no self-checkout—yay! The friendly cashiers whip through my goods. I then pay, we part happy…camera panning, music rising…I skip to my car.

But, occasionally I need to go to a bigger supermarket. I clench my teeth, knowing what lies ahead. Now, this store has 12 regular checkout points in a long row—12!—all brimming with the promise of seamless service. Then, lurking at the end is a self-checkout “zone,” aka The Seventh Circle of Hell. This zone is where they incarcerate a bunch of self-checkout machines, every single one of which malfunctions with unending, relentless, unceasing regularity. 

I have seen grown men reduced to tears when told to place an item in the bagging area, only to have the machine bark back, unidentified item in bagging area! I adopt the slam-it-down approach for lighter items to ensure the sensor under the bag registers. Other customers think I have anger issues, but how else do you get the machine to stop yelling, please place item in bagging area? I can’t make a purse-sized pack of tissues heavier than they are! Last week,  I saw a woman abandon an order halfway through because it was easier to pick up pizza than spend another 20 minutes waiting for the zone warder to beat some sense into the machine. (I blame these damn self-checkouts for the reduction in healthy homecooked meals!)

So, what’s the problem, you ask? Just use the regular cashiers, you say. Well, the problem is that over the years, this big store has cunningly reduced the number of human-managed checkouts. On any given day, you will find in operation ONE regular checkout and, if you are super lucky, another cashier manning the Express Checkout.  (This is such rare sight—you are more likely to see a zebra trotting through the store—that customers find themselves taking pix of the manned Express Checkout, and posting them to social media like a Kardashian sighting.) If you peer around the winding line at the one regular checkout, you will see the other 11 tills dark and abandoned, tumbleweeds, and cobwebs gathering around them. 

So, unless you have an hour or two to wait at the regular checkout, the store is forcing you to use their eternally glitchy self-checkout, thereby saving themselves thousands in wages and welcoming you to their roster of unpaid staff. My offer is: I’ll take on this unpaid work if you give me a 10% discount!  

And don’t start me on Medical portals!!  

Feel free to share any examples you have of times you felt you were doing someone’s job for them!

Posted in Musings

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