August 27, 2000
My local grocery store has recently instituted a pair of self-serve checkstands. For those where this hasn't come to be: you scan your own purchases, following instructions (in this case they're spoken by a computerized version of a female voice).
The store is trying to make this option work. A clerk is stationed at the end of the stands to answer questions and make sure transactions are carried out correctly. In my store's case, the two stands replace one of the traditional express lanes. You may use this new option if you have fifteen or fewer items.
The traditional express lane has changed rules---you may now only use it with ten or fewer items, down from the prior twelve.
This all sounds well and good. I tried the self-serve lane (in another branch of this grocery chain) several months ago, and had no problems. But I'm not planning to use it again, at least not regularly. Once in a rare while, perhaps.
There are several reasons. It takes longer to use this system than to go through a regular lane, because you have to wait for the machine prompts. You have to listen to that annoying voice. And the biggie: if I had time to work for the grocery store, I'd apply for a job.
I don't need the economics lecture about holding down personnel-related costs by having one clerk overseeing the two stands, thanks. The grocery chain won't refrain from raising prices just because they have one less person per store on their staff.
I see this as a thinly-disguised rip-off. They're getting customers to do the work, but not offering any real benefit. The people trumpeting this new gadget are stressing the ease of use (easier than letting someone else do it?) and trying to appeal to the customers' inner geek. Well, I know how bar code readers work, and I have my own computer, thanks, so I don't need to go to the grocery store to play.
And what if I need more than the ten items the express lane allows? Well, I'll take my place in a regular lane and stare at the tabloid covers, just like always. I don't break the express lane rules. I always count my items while I'm getting ready to get in line, if I'm not utterly sure already.
And if I ever have another express lane clerk "remind" me about the ten-items rule again the way the one did today, I will complain loud and long to the manager. I had seen the sign and had counted the number of items in my basket. Ten exactly. No need to go to a regular lane. But the clerk saw that my basket was full, and told me to remember in the future that this was the ten-items line. I said, rather calmly, that I didn't believe I had more than ten items. The little jerk then proceeded to COUNT them, in front of me and anyone else paying attention! Of course, there were ten. No, he didn't apologize.
This time I let it go. But I won't be so quiet again.
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