A list of the most stressful experiences that anyone can go through in their lifetime will include events such as the death of a family member, divorce and moving house. I think that supermarket self-checkouts should be added to that list…
When approaching the checkouts with your three items of shopping, there are usually two choices open to you. You can queue up behind the hoards of families putting their monthly food shop through the tills of the spotty trainees or you can risk your mental health by using the self-service checkout systems. The world of personal shopping really has gone out of the window, to be replaced by a form of torture only previously seen on bad Japanese game shows. Still, it can’t really be that bad…. can it?
A few days ago, I gave the self-checkout a try. My first challenge came with deciding where to queue. There were three rows of checkouts and other customers seemed as perplexed as me about choosing which queue to join. They were all milling around looking like they were mentally building complicated mathematical algorithms to decide where to go. I found myself joining in with this pointless exercise…
“Should I opt for the queue with the fewest people or should I also take into consideration the number of items in the basket of each shopper in each queue? In addition, should I factor in the likely intelligence of the people in the queues?”
There was one certainty with all this - whichever queue I chose would be the wrong one. Sure enough, I got stuck behind a lady who couldn’t find the barcode on her packet of Ryvita, a teenager who needed to individually select 15 different flavours of muffin using the on-screen interactions, an old lady who spent 5 minutes sorting through her over-large collection of plastic loyalty cards and, finally, an elderly man who delayed one-second too long in putting an item into his ‘bag for life,’ setting all the alarm bells off. At that moment I was so filled with rage that I wanted to strangle him (rendering his ‘bag for life’ useless forever after)
When I finally arrived at the self-checkout machine, frustration turned to stress. I suddenly felt all self-conscious that it was my turn and realised that everyone in the queue behind me was watching me, waiting for me to do something stupid and forming opinions based upon the combination of items in my basket. I really should have given it more thought before proceeding through the self-checkouts with condoms, lube and an extra-large cucumber…
It was then that I wished I’d taken my items and hidden them under a loaf of bread on one of the conveyor belt checkouts. I tried to scan the items quickly and, inevitably, set the flashing lights and alarms off. In my mind, I could hear an announcement being made over the supermarket tannoy system:
Security announcement: unexpected contraception has been found in the bagging area… and he's got an extra-large cucumber too, what's he going to do with that?
Locked out from the system, I felt completely helpless. I looked around desperately for assistance and a lady in uniform came to help me (no, not the police). She scanned her card through the system, gave me a look as if to say “can’t you do anything right?” and then told me to carry on. In the meantime, I could hear the people queueing behind me tutting, huffing and whistling to themselves (it could well have been to the tune of ‘Right Here Waiting For You,’ I was too busy panicking to be able to tell). Sweating profusely, I paid, grabbed my bags and beat a hasty retreat.
What an ordeal! If I’d wanted to spend my precious time scanning shopping, I’d have applied for a job as a (non-spotty) checkout operator. It’s not service, it’s not quick and it’s certainly not personal - I don’t even get the benefit of having a pointless conversation with a miserable checkout operator. Quite simply, it’s me working for the supermarket and not being paid for it. There’s no fun or benefit to me in that.