Sunday, 2 February 2020

Self Checkouts: An Overdue Rant

My better half and I went shopping early Saturday morning, as has been our weekly practice for several years. We habitually seem to always go to the same store. After today’s experience, however, that may all change; they may well have lost another customer. Why?

I’m glad you asked.

We used to do virtually all our shopping at that particular big-box store. In all fairness, we found that many of their items were cheaper than some of the competitors. Still, it was not uncommon for us to drop $200 week after week in that store; sometimes even more. At $800+ per month, you’d almost think that we should be shareholders by now! (Ha, Ha).

Then gradually something weird started to happen. Items we regularly purchased for years were suddenly discontinued. Certain brands of jam spreads, and tea varieties, just to name a couple, suddenly began disappearing off the shelves. Yes, they had other options for us, but we were not interested in them. We knew what we liked, and we wanted what we liked. Occasionally we tried a few substitutes, but they normally proved disappointing. Consequently, time and again, when we suddenly could no longer find something, the private family joke had become, “Oh, they discovered that we really liked ‘X’, and so they pulled it off the shelves.”

Ultimately it is their store, so it is also their prerogative to carry what they will and manage their business as they will.

However, it seems to me that they also need to do so wisely, because the consumers they wish to attract also have the right to shop where they choose.  In our experience, we reasoned that if we can no longer find what we want at our normal grocery store, then perhaps other stores would be happy to have our business. We were right. Other previous irregular shopping destinations, started seeing more and more of us. We even discovered a small local butcher shop with a beautiful meat selection and some great weekly specials.

As for our previous big box store, we now spend about half of what we used to in that store.  The $200+ weekly purchase is usually now typically barely over $100. As such we want to say a big Thank You to that vendor for opening our eyes and introducing us to other shopping options amongst their competitors. Well done! (Yes, I’m being a little facetious).

But back to this morning’s shopping experience. Again, as we do week after week, we visited the same store about 08:00am, an hour after they opened. This time, however, we came very close to waking away from our semi-full shopping cart, and walking out the store empty handed. Why?

I’m glad you asked!

Sometime between our visit last week and this week, they seemed to have been inspired to reduce the teller operated cashier lanes, and virtually double their self-checkout lanes. We approached the tellers only to find that there weren’t any! Instead of the one self-checkout area there was the previous week, there were now two giant self-checkout areas. In between lay the unstaffed normal check out lanes, the number of which also seemed to have been reduced sometime since our last visit. Three or four staff members were wandering around in each of the self-checkout lanes, but none were in the real checkout lanes actually serving their customers! What did we do?

I’m glad you asked.

Rather than play the self-checkout game, we stood beside our shopping carts opposite the closed checkout counters and waited. Soon, another lady with even a fuller shopping cart stood beside us and also waited. After a little chit-chat with her, it became apparent that she too wasn’t interested in this self-checkout game/fad either. Eventually a cashier arrived from somewhere, and, seemingly begrudgingly (based upon a strange look I received from her, though my wife said she never noticed that look), opened the nearest till to serve us.

I get it; times are tough, and all of us in business need to find ways to tighten our belts and save a dollar or two, or we soon may not be in business. My bosses are lately always dictating cost savings measures in our industry too. I really do get it; it’s a sign of the times! 

However, all of us no doubt already spend more than enough on basic foodstuffs. As such, there is no way that I think it right that I then also have to scan and check out my own groceries! Yes, I’ll play the game and do the self-checkout when I only have two or three items; I’ve even occasionally done so with six items. But much more than that, no way! One of these days I may yet leave a cart full of groceries at an abandoned checkout lane, and walk out of the store without my would-be purchases in hand. No doubt that will cost the vendor money too as some poor staff person will then have to restock all my items.

It’s not like I’m expecting the grocers to pack my groceries out to the car for me, although I do remember that wonderful era when grocery stores did provide exactly that higher level of customer service. I am simply saying that, if a grocer wants to continue to enjoy my business, my humble little $800+ per month, they can provide a check out clerk to assist me with my transactions. Alternately, I fully expect to get a paycheck like other employed staff there, if I have to do the checkout myself.

To date no grocery stores have issued me a paycheck.

I am encouraged that I’m not alone in my self-checkout boycott. I was in a different store recently, and was pleasantly surprised to see a lineup of 10-12 people at a single open till, most with only two or three items in hand, while the adjacent self checkout tills remained completely empty. Could those customers have gotten out of the store quicker by checking themselves out? Most certainly, yes; I’m sure they could have. Like me, however, they also probably had not yet received their employee’s paycheck. So on principle’s sake, in line they stood, if for no other reason, than to make a statement.

Back to our shopping experience this morning, for both my wife and myself, it was one of the more stressful shopping experiences yet in our almost 40-years of marriage. Strange how by 09:00am, on a Saturday morning, that store had rattled our nerves so much that we joked that we needed a strong alcoholic drink!

No, we didn’t have the strong alcoholic drink. We went home and opted to calm our nerves with a strong coffee instead.

End of rant!

Postscript: Rather than publicly identify the grocer here, I’ve chosen to keep them anonymous. A link to this post, however, will be emailed to them. Whether or not they change their practice, is up to them; whether or not I continue to spend hard-earned dollars in their store, is up to me. Peace.

First photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Second photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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