I love the new full-service, automated bank-teller machines. I can deposit checks, get quick cash and never have to speak to another human. It is bliss.
Remember, though, when ATMs were in their infancy? They were intended to replace a bank teller, but banks were afraid customers would miss the personal interaction (this was before the digital age), so the machines had names like “Jeanie.” And many of them spoke to you, saying things like, “Thank you for banking with us” in a sexy British accent.
Well, supermarket self-checkout kiosks are at about that level of development now. I use them, but I hate them.
And before I go on this rant, please know that I understand the vocal part of these kiosks is necessary for customers with sight impairment, and I’m fine with that. I only recently found out that there is a mute button on these machines, but I am still scarred from months and months of listening to its inane banter while buying cheese and orange juice. What? Do they think we are idiots?
I remember one day when I was in Kroger on lower Brownsboro Road and, while checking out, swiped some toilet paper that was on sale. The machine said, “Three dollars, ninety-nine cents.” But I knew it was on sale for $3.49, so I paused before swiping another item. And then the machine said, “Credit, fifty cents.” Why go through all that? Just say it’s $3.49 and be done. Why confuse me?
But what I hate more is that with every item swiped, the machine tells me, “Please place the item in the bagging area.”
I want to say, each freaking time, “What else am I going to do with it, you moron?”
Well, during this same shopping trip, I bought some lemons. Easy enough, right? They are individually priced, but they also are coded so you can’t scan them. So, you have to either type in a short product number or search by name, then type in the quantity, then hear the machine say, “Please place item on scanner.”
But this time, I accidentally clicked on the wrong item. And it wouldn’t let me go back. I finally ended up hitting the “clear” button so many times that a screen appeared telling me that a clerk was being summoned to help. For a moment, I thought I was in trouble and would be escorted out. And then the annoying female voice said something like, “Please wait — help is on the way.” Like it’s some cheesy 1940s serial show, and I’m tied to a railroad track or something.
I gritted my teeth and said, “I don’t need help!” Yes, I said it out loud. And then a curly-haired kid with glasses appeared next to me, nervously cleared the screen and said, “OK, you’re all set.”
Thanks. Apparently, he decided not to call the police on me for intimidating a self-checkout machine.
I scanned a bottle of club soda. “Please place the item in the bagging area.” And then some shredded cheese. “Please place the item in the bagging area.” And then blueberries. “Please place the item in the bagging area.”
And as this went on, each time the stupid machine told me to “Please place the item in the bagging area,” I said, “Shut up.” And I said it a bit louder each time.
“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
I suspect I made a scene, but I didn’t even bother to look around to see if anyone noticed that a grown man was standing in Kroger, arguing with what amounts to a cross between a protocol droid and a cash register. I just didn’t care.
But there’s hope. A new study in the United Kingdom, at the University of Leicester, looked at data from nearly 12 million shopping trips around the world, and findings show retailers are losing money on these machines. Why? Because the loss rate due to stealing is 122 percent higher than if a live cashier were present.
The theory is that this technology, which is largely based on the honor system, gives many customers an excuse to steal. And if the technology fails during the transaction — like with the lemons — many customers feel justified in just taking the item, or items, without paying for them.
So maybe the financial risks will eventually make the self-checkout extinct. I’m just glad to finally know Kroger added a mute button to these machines. My stress levels are high enough as it is without having to argue with a checkout lane. •