Grocer X: Self-checkout, you’re doing it wrong


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In light of recent events, that being a shooting at a local grocery, I could give you more on the terrifying perils grocery workers face day in and day out, but I’m not into the doom and gloom this week.

I’ve realized that you, the customer, face your own nightmares every time you walk through the automatic doors. Sure, they’re probably not the monsters that haunt my dreams (though, admittedly, some employees can be pretty awful too), but a group of teenage shoplifters firing weapons in the parking lot could be added to that list. Maybe your outlook is a little less dramatic, and you just like to be in and out of the store as quickly as possible all the time. The point is, you want your shopping trips to be as streamlined as possible and that usually means you look to the self-checkout to make it happen.

Now, if you’re someone who brings a $200 order to the self-check and blunders through what seems like hours to scan, weigh, and bag all your groceries by yourself, you’re a terrible person and this post won’t help you.

Yeah, I know, “those things never work,” and “they always get things wrong,” but I’m telling you right now it’s usually operator error. It’s really not that hard; scan an item to start, enter your membership-whatever (if you have one), finish scanning your items, pay, and leave.

Everything you need to complete your order is right there for you. The scale, an item guide, a keypad, carry bags, sometimes even an employee, are all you could possibly need to do it yourself — “self-checkout,” get it?
When the sirens are blaring and the machine screams what might as well be, “this person doesn’t know what they’re doing,” it’s usually because you don’t know an item code, tried to use some coupons or marked-down items, or you brought your own shopping bags. These minor, everyday things become the bane of your existence as the line of faces glaring and judging your ineptitude grows longer with each flash of the red light above you.

Want to avoid such humiliation?

If you have coupons make sure you don’t have a lot. One, maybe two, shouldn’t be a problem, but an attending clerk will have to help you either way (Same goes for marked-down items.) Your best bet is to go see the clerk right off the bat; sometimes they can ring you up on the spot.

Produce, baked goods or anything else without a barcode is reason enough for some to avoid the self-checkout all together, but they’re not hard to figure out either. The machine expects you to give it a number to look up, the number you’re looking for is the “PLU,” look at the sticker on an apple or banana and you’ll see it. You can find them on the price tags, stickers, and sometimes the ads, all you need to do is remember it and give it to the machine — write them down if you have to. After you enter the number, it’s as simple as setting it on the scale, or selecting the quantity — wham, bam, thank you madam.

As for your reusable bags, there’s something you should know about the bagging platform at the self-check; it’s weight sensitive. If you set your bags on the platform, or anything that the scanner hasn’t seen, the machine thinks you’ve bagged an item without ringing it up. Some may ask if you’re using your own bags but the feature rarely works, and a clerk will still have to bypass it for you. The best workaround I’ve found is to leave your reusable bags out of the picture until your receipt is printed, then bag everything at once. It may feel a bit unorganized, but if your main goal is to avoid human interaction of any kind, it’s your best bet.

You no longer have to be the symbol of incapability when using the self-checkout lanes if you heed my advice. So, put your smart pants on and show those machines you’re not the idiot it thought you were.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to

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