Room 101: self-checkouts


“Have you swiped your nectar card?” NO, and I don’t intend to! If I had, I would have swiped it. Indeed, I would definitely have swiped it after your second reminder or, god forbid, third or fourth.

We’ve all been there: in a rush we decide to use the automated checkout only to find ourselves squabbling with a machine. What was meant to ‘save’ us time instead leaves us flustered, fuming and further behind in our busy lives. A seemingly innocuous metal box, the self-checkout is the Satan of the shopping experience and thus, indisputably worthy of eternal banishment to Room 101.

If it’s not the multiple requests to redeem points or to produce a loyalty card, which gets me enraged, it’s the general inability of these automated services to do just that: provide a service! In an age where anything of value must be preceded with an ‘i’ and endorsed with a logo of a partially eaten apple, it seems unbelievable that the technology to accurately weigh a basket of items has hitherto eluded us.  Instead, that now-infamous phrase “unexpected item in bagging area” gets us vigorously reshuffling our purchased items in an attempt to correct the bewildered set of scales.

On the off chance that you happen to stumble across an automated checkout that actually works, do not rejoice. You’ll more likely to be left waiting for a preceding customer to unload their truck-, sorry, ‘trolley’-load of items. If we’re going to follow the admittedly only notional idea of self-service checkouts being a quicker shopping experience, let’s at least play the game and conform to the “baskets only” dogma. Speaking as a frequent victim of such outrageous behaviour, I can confirm that watching someone grapple with their one hundredth barcode whilst you await the scanning of a solitary sandwich is consumerism’s equivalent to watching paint dry. And then re-dry. And re-dry.

Nor does the saga end with the issuing of the receipt for, shopping bag in hand, it’s now time to pass through the electronic sensors at the shop’s entrance. No matter the supposed skill with which you scanned each item, self-service machines cannot but leave you with a nagging anxiety that at least one of your acquisitions has not been deactivated properly.

Perhaps the only consolation that can be drawn from the automated checkout is to recall what it replaced: undertrained, incompetent and typically rude cashiers. In other words, it’s just a metal version of ourselves but cheaper. All hail the human race!

Amedea Kelly-Taglianini

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