Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Self-Check Out

Who. Invented. This.

I want to find that person. I can understand the inspiration. They realized that we can now pay bills online, and pay for gas at the pump. We don't need cashiers to carry out these transactions, so why not make the grocery store a self serve endeavor?

Why not? Because people are, largely, quite stupid.

The Home Depot nearest my house has four self check out stands. There is a sign, clearly posted, warning people not to bring items like lumber or anything too big to fit into the shopping cart through the self check out line. The sign is not successful in barring lumber; it is successful in getting people to stretch the definition of lumber and large material way thin. This is, after all, a Home Depot. Lumber and large items abound. And make their way to a self check out where the customer finds out WHY the sign is posted, as they realize it is really not possible to lift a palette of two by fours onto the scanner to ring.

The rebelliousness continues in the supermarket. There are no signs in the grocery store, however it's fairly idiotic to assume that you will be able to find a price for a Bosc Pear if you have no idea what a bosc pear is. I can't count the number of times I've stood behind someone and witnessed the horror overcoming their face as they realize there are about six hundred varieties of brown colored pears. Followed by the sheepish grin to the growing crowd behind them as they press the "help' button.

My question: how is checking yourself out of a store faster if you don't know what you're doing? Does it somehow make people feel smarter that they don't 'need' a cashier to assist them? Is there some shame in having someone else determine the price and collect money for your wheat germ? Or are these all people who, when playing store as children, always had to be the stock person (we all know being the cashier was always the most fun)?

I wish they would do away with the self checkout altogether. It really makes people aspire to skills they do not possess. It is almost always a longer wait than the regular cashier line, even if he is taking smoke breaks every third customer. They've even put a self checkout line in the Ikea, which is about the worst idea I've seen implemented since New Coke. No one should be scanning their own disassembled dining room set.

Since removing these hideous inventions is unlikely, I am left with imploring the body politic: save a job. And our sanity. See a cashier.


Anonymous said...

Ah, but you miss the point!

In your delightfully simple way, full of the charming innocense of childhood, you assume self checkout is for the benefit of the customers

It is no such thing. It is for the benefit of the merchant , specifically it is for saving money by doing away with those irritating things called employees. If you can convince your customers to make like sheep and do their own checkout, look at all the lovely money you'll save.

What's that? You ask about the inconvenience and trouble you're causing your customers? Don't you realize that in modern American business, 'customer service' is about as important as 'quality control' was in the 1950s and 1960s. In other words it's about dead last on your list of priorities.

Like quality control in the 50's and 60's, customer service today is kept to a level which produces the maximum degree of tolerable pain in the customer. In other words, you provide just enough of it so your customers don't depart en masse. The idea is not to keep the customers happy, it is to keep them as unhappy as you can and still have most of them remain customers.

This also explains such phenomena as outsourcing, where people halfway around the world with incomprehensible accents read from scripts prepared by idiots for idiots to fuming customers who are already driven to distraction because the damn product or service doesn't work as advertised.

Of course all this infuriates customers, but it saves the company tons and tons of money. When American companies applied the principle to quality control 40 and 50 years ago they lost customers in droves to the Japanese because people were sick of crappy products.

This situation will continue as long as we tolerate it. The solution is not to tolerate it any more.

You mentioned Home Depot in your example. I seldom purchase anything at Home Depot or other 'home centers' any more precisely because I'm tired of this nonsense. Instead I go to a local hardware store (affiliated with the ACE co-op) which is staffed by real live people who are amazingly knowledgable about hardware, speak English, and know the answers to my questions.

The amazing thing is that in general the prices at Ace are little, if any, higher than those at Home Despot.

As for 'conveniences' like self-serve checkout, I never use them. If the wait gets too long for a cashier, I go elsewhere. It's not like America is under-served with retailers.

Oh yeah. It doesn't hurt to fire off an angry e-mail to companies who abuse their customers telling them you'll never shop with them again. You can think of it as a gesture of kindness, since out of the generosity of your heart you're helping them satisfy customers.

Alternatively, you can think of it as paying those greedy bastards back for the retail hell they put you through.


Anonymous said...

uh, I was gonna leave a comment but it looks like all the room was taken.

Champagne on Tuesdays said...

I'm going to start giving prizes to people who take these posts way too seriously. :)