Friday, July 22, 2011

The Problem With Self-Checkout At Grocery Stores

The issue of to use or not to use self check-outs.

I love the concept, I hate the real-life, rubber-meets-the-road reality of it.

The issue isn't whether the idea is a good one or not, I readily agree that it's great to be able to go and start doing the work yourself versus standing behind Aunt Martha who forgot something and asks the cashier to go get it for her. Really? Yes, really. You have never experienced that? I have on numerous occasions. Or another scenario where Mrs. Martha realizes she got the wrong kind and therefore, everyone needs to wait for 5 minutes while someone is called to bring it up front for her.

I guess cashiers are trained not to tell them no, you'll have to step out of line if you want to do that so that other - paying - customers can get their goods checked, rung up and get them out of the store. I have spoken up on such occasions when a particular, entire party of women wanted the store's personnel to bring them up a half dozen more cases of Power Aid. No, not a bottle or 2, cases.

Or you get stuck behind Mrs. Martha's sister - she sits there and watches everything being rung up and then, at the very end of all of it: everything is bagged, the sale is rung up, the goods are in the cart ready to go, she finally pulls out her purse and slowly starts getting out her wallet to get at whatever means she's going to pay for it. Really? I have my payment ready long before the sale is over, cognizant of others waiting behind me and very cognizant of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have do unto yourself.

Well, the lack of taking an action in this case goes against that rule. You don't care how long you hold other people up, it doesn't matter to you that your actions or inactions are causing other people grief, you are in your own little bubble.

Here's a very recent case-in-point: yesterday. I have prostate infection. I felt like I was dying yesterday. I was in CVS pharmacy, no, there was no self-checkout available at this store, waiting to get rung up and get OUT of there and get HOME and collapse in my bed. I'm waiting, very impatiently - one side effect of prostate infection is frequent urination and the demand your body signals send you to do it right NOW, even if you JUST went to the bathroom 20 minutes ago - and yes, I was there. I was holding it in, watching 2 people in front of me take their SWEET, LOVELY OLD TIME pulling out their payment and moving on.

So, advance to the new-age technology of self-checkout. I thought it a grand idea at first. I am not anti-social - so the news reports of this situation about people just wanting to get in and not have human interaction don't exactly apply to me. I want to get out, yes, but I like going through a human run checkout far more than self-serve.

But, the first time I went through one of those lines at Fry's Food Stores, there were problems. The second time I went through, less problems, all with technical issues trying to get the system dialed in and training personnel how to use the system.

After the techs were gone, the system fully up and running and the store personnel fully trained how to use the equipment, THAT is when the problems started. A list below explains my problem with self checkout.

1. The ever abiding screen that comes up and says an assistant has been called to help you. This happens almost every time I go into Fry's. I didn't call, ask or WANT an assistant to help me, but the issue is forced: I can't do anything until they clear the screen.

2. WHEN that screen comes up, the assistant is busy with someone else. Or reading something, or simply not paying attention. It can be some time before the assistant gets to my screen, clears it without asking me any questions at all. There is the big thing that annoys me, WHY did this screen come up in the first place?

3. The non-existent attendant. This is the person that isn't anywhere near the self-checkout station. They are off somewhere else, doing something else. I have seen them 50 feet away, doing something else besides manning their station. Apparently, paying customers that are helping that store by checking ourselves out aren't worthy of constant attention at the screen, even though there are up to 8 people doing that process at the same time. They certainly don't have 8 checkout lanes open with live, human cashiers doing the job for you. Once, the lady that was supposed to be doing the self-checkout was in the produce section at the Fry's Food Stores location I was at. The produce section is well over 100 feet away from the self-checkouts and more, you can't even SEE the produce section from there.

4. Employees that are rude. They don't do this with me anymore, they know who I am and they know I will simply go get the general manager of the store or I will contact Fry's Food Stores corporate as soon as I get home. If you unintentionally do something "wrong" at the self-check, these types of employees will get short and even nasty with you. I won't tolerate such attitude from any employee of any store, anywhere.

5. The social gathering. This is when 2, 3, 4, or 5 employees are gathered at the front of the store in complete oblivion to anything, and in this case, completely ignoring the customers that are stranded at the self-checkouts who are waiting for the inevitable "an assistant has been called to help you" sign that stops the entire process. I got sick of that - yes, at Fry's Food and Drug Stores - and started going to the general manager's office. I would bring him out and show him the screen and point at the employees. He would deal with my problem - and 2 or 3 others also waiting because of that screen.

6. Too many self checkouts, not enough attendants. The system was set up for 2 attendants if over 4 self checkouts are open. I heard this from the TECHNICIAN, not the Fry's employees who attempted to repudiate it. Sorry, Charlie, that doesn't work. The guy installs the equipment, he says it's so, it's so and for a good reason. When you have 8 self checkouts and only 1 attendant, there are going to be problems. IE: the damned screen that makes you wait. Or the customer that doesn't know how to use the self checkout and wants the attendant to do ALL of it for them. Or the problem a customer is having with whatever: been there, done that. Meanwhile, 1, 2, or 3 other customers are waiting to get that screen cleared or have issues of their own that need addressed. I don't even contest over pricing anymore, I just pay the entire bill and then I contest it. Why? Because I don't have to wait, first and foremost, and secondly, because Fry's Food and Drug Stores has a policy: it's free under $5 or a gift card over $5 when a scanning error occurs. I get done with the transaction - and then almost always get sent to customer service.

Need I go on? I would hope not. If working properly - these self checkouts are a great idea. On that note, I love the way Fresh and Easy works it. There is at least one "floating" attendant that is going between self-checkouts - they are ALL self checkouts at those stores but you can ask them to do it for you if you prefer. That person is working tirelessly - and quickly to make sure that everyone is taken care of speedily. If there are too many people at the checkouts, more employees appear out of the thin blue air. I have not had a problem at those stores.

But, more often than not, they are not working properly at many stores for the variety of reasons that I have given above.

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