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When we got back from Europe I had the usual emergency run to the supermarket to restock the bare essentials, so we could ride out the jet lag before facing a Tier 1 grocery shopping maelstrom.
I still had a little maelstrom anyway. The self-checkout system kept losing its shit, accusing me of stealing stuff. It didn’t use those exact words, of course, but I knew what the frantic robot douchelord was implying.
Four times it happened, and four times an apologetic employee had to come over and sort it out. While we’d been away, Woolies had installed extra cams in the ceiling to catch criminal masterminds hiding an extra tin of cat food in their bags. Or something.
Anyway, the system melted down because I tend to hold a couple of items in my spare hand while swiping barcodes with the other. The ceiling cams picked up the items in my offhand and assumed I was a mad anarchist making an assault on the corporation’s precious shareholder value.
That’s why this piece in The Atlantic caught my eye.
SELF-CHECKOUT IS A FAILED EXPERIMENT:
When self-checkout kiosks began to pop up in American grocery stores, the sales pitch to shoppers was impressive: Scan your stuff, plunk it in a bag, and you’re done. Long checkout lines would disappear. Waits would dwindle. Small talk with cashiers would be a thing of the past. Need help? Store associates, freed from the drudgery of scanning barcodes, would be close at hand to answer your questions.
You know how this process actually goes by now: You still have to wait in line. The checkout kiosks bleat and flash when you fail to set a purchase down in the right spot. Scanning those items is sometimes a crapshoot—wave a barcode too vigorously in front of an uncooperative machine, and suddenly you’ve scanned it two or three times. Then you need to locate the usually lone employee charged with supervising all of the finicky kiosks, who will radiate exasperation at you while scanning her ID badge and tapping the kiosk’s touch screen from pure muscle memory. If you want to buy something that even might carry some kind of arbitrary purchase restriction—not just obvious things such as alcohol, but also products as seemingly innocuous as a generic antihistamine—well, maybe don’t do that.
The mag went on to report that Walmart has discontinued self-checkout kiosks in several stores and is rethinking their design to include more staff assistance. Costco is increasing the number of employees in its self-checkout zones, and ShopRite is reintroducing cashiers after trying out a self-checkout-only approach due to negative customer feedback.
I’m really hoping the same thing happens here and we finally put an end to these shitty fucking retail Daleks. But I won’t be holding my breath. Big corps do love to squeeze every dollar, every customer, and their ever-shrinking number of employees until we all die screaming.