Missing from the requirements document: Quinn Lester

by Andy Lester

I've come to appreciate, though not love, those manual checkout
lanes in the grocery store. If they haven't come to your town,
they allow shoppers to ring up and pay for their own purchases,
without having a cashier do it. At my local Jewel/Osco, four manual
lanes take up the space of two lanes that used to be staffed by a

The checkout system is simple. You scan the item, and the price
and description show up on the screen, and you bag the item in one
of the three plastic bag holders to the right of the scanner. The
bag holders, and the shelf on which they rest, are on a big scale
that keeps track of the weight of your purchases. If you "forget"
to scan an item and bag it, it tells you "hey, you put an item in
a bag without scanning it." (Actually, the female computerized
voice is much nicer about it.) If you take something off the shelf,
or put a bag back in your cart, you have to click a little "item(s)
removed" button so the scale recalibrates. The scanner is about
three feet off the ground, and the scale/shelf is two feet high.

The system works well enough. After a few items, and you get used
to the quirks of the rhythm of scan-bag-scan-bag-scan-bag, it's
pretty quick. Some people hate it, but I think it's more from fear
of the new, rather than it being very difficult.

However, I believe I found a scenario that the designers didn't
take into account: Ringing up your groceries with a four-year-old
in tow.

On Sunday, Quinn and I
selected about 40 items and went to the manual checkout lane. I
started checking out items, and Quinn wanted to help, of course.
She grabbed a can of Spaghetti-O's out of the cart, and put it up
on the scanner ("boop!"), right as I had scanned a box of Triscuits
("boop!"). The register was not happy at having the Spaghetti-O's
scanned before I'd bagged the Triscuits, so up pops an error. I
had to wait for the system to get itself back in sync before I could
continue, but Quinn went to get a can of alphabet chicken soup and
tried to scan that, which only made things worse.

After a few attempts at this, I implored Quinn to let Daddy do the
groceries. "Please just wait a minute, honey, and we'll go out to
the car, OK?" She wasn't too happy about it, but she was a good
girl and decided to sit quietly... on the shelf.

Suffice to say the system didn't account for an unscanned four-year-old.
I had to explain that she couldn't sit on the shelf with the bags,
so she stood next to it... for about 15 seconds before she put her
hand on the shelf and leaned on it.

Human cashiers still win as far as fault tolerance.

What other systems have fallen afoul of a four-year-old?


2005-11-09 09:25:44
Here's what I don't get
Self-checkout lanes at Home Depot. We don't have any Lowe's here so I don't know if they do the same thing.

Sure, there are things at Home Depot that you could scan through yourself. But let's think about this for a minute. How many trips do you make do a home improvement store where you're only buying something small?

Very few, I'm willing to bet. A sample trip for me would include 2x4s, wood screws, maybe some moulding, bags of cement.

How many of those items are self-scannable? The screws.

This is actually one reason we stopped going to Home Depot almost entirely and shop at smaller regional stores instead. Every time we went to that store in the evening, there was one cash register open, with a line of approximately 300 people, all of whom had large items they could not self-scan.

When we complained to the manager (repeatedly) he told us that he couldn't find anyone willing to work cashier jobs.

I didn't believe him for a second. What I heard was "I have a self-checkout line so I don't have to pay cashiers."

The customer is always right...

2005-11-09 10:51:08
I hear ya!
As a father of incurably curious kids (7, 4, and 18 months) I know exactly what you're talking about! :-).
2005-11-20 21:25:00
just being greedy...
I try and avoid those things as often as possible. Not because I don't like them or don't understand them, I think they are a novell idea.
I avoid them because I think it is a bit of a rip off. When you use those you cut that store's overhead a little bit because they didn't have to pay someone to take care of you. If a lot of people use them then those people cut the store's overhead significantly, possibly worth a few cashiers. But, you don't see anything back from it. There is no discount for saving the store money, they just get to keep the same prices with less overhead. So that's my thing.
I'll use them when I get a discount for doing so, even if it is an insanely small percentage which only really is useable on large purchases.
2005-11-20 21:27:25
just being greedy...
I should have thrown in the disclaimer that I am a college student, so I'm cheap.
2005-11-22 21:12:23
Here's what I don't get
That is another thing I'm not a fan of, replacing the cashier positions. They make decent jobs while kids are in high school/early college.
2006-01-19 08:18:39
Self scanning fun and games
Glad to see my granddaughter is so willing to "help Daddy". But back to the self scanning, I hate it. No, I'm not anti-tech. But, it always seems slower to me. The cashiers are used to scanning quickly. The lines are usually shorter at the cashiers than the self check anyway, at least at our grocery stores (Fred Meyer, Albertsons) that have it.

I'm neutral on the "give people jobs" angle. Our Home Depot doesn't have self check at all, even though it was just built a couple years ago. I've never figured the pattern of when they're busy and when not. The pattern at grocery stores is pretty clear (as at Starbucks, gas stations, etc.)