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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Validity of The Self CheckOut

I was in Ikea the other night, looking for new trappings, and neat compact furniture, and other novel ideas for an apartment that I may own some day. After I had collected my wares from the trip, I went to pay, and was met with a pretty disturbing scene. The There was no one at the check outs. All the check out lanes were darkened, and abandoned. The only stream of light came from the glowing self check out lane. This double wide lane featured two banks of self check out machines. A lone attendant stood at her podium, over looking operations. There was a long line so I had some time to observe and contemplate. Every so often, some one would slip up press a wrong button, and the attendant would come down from her podium, press a few buttons and return. I'd see the oversee'r pressing some buttons from her podium, which bypassed any errors that the customers may have made. Pretty efficient. Of course something like this had me ready to write. And this isn't the first time I've had my run in with these machine check outs. At the grocery stores, they're slowing pushing their way up from the last lane that no one goes to, all the way up to the middle lanes. Obviously the proficiency and money saved from these machines is invaluable to companies. Six machines, replaces six employee's. Its not hard to imagine how or why these are so popular. That's great for the company, but what about the shopper? Does the self check out really help the customer at all? Whats really the point? I'm torn between these techno-checkers. While I do like the idea of empowering the people, and letting them do their own dirty work, there seems something way to cold and remote about coming to a checkout area and finding no one there, except a row of "robots". (I say robots because the first self check out machine, which was introduced in 1992 by Dr. Howard Schnieder, were classified and coined by the Dr himself, as Service Robots. Which he hoped would be the first in a long list of other robot tech to "assist human living".)
Its not as if I eagerly await to see cashiers or anything, but I'm not to green on the idea of having no one there and the customers are herded to these vestibules and electronically guided through the check out process. I don't know maybe its just me. I just feel its very cold. As I was guided through the animated user interface of the self check out at Ikea, I really felt like taking a hammer to it. Not because the interface was confusing but because looking these quiet, and smooth running machines, I knew that atleast 5 people didn't have jobs. IT just really makes me wonder what other human jobs are going to be completely obsolete in a few years time? If you've guys have seen the movie Total Recall, the Johnny Cab are a perfect example. Programmed machine which know the traffic routes may be a few years off (a lot of years off) but still, that type of idea means that we'll be so limited to actually talking with another person when we step out our front door... What do you guys think? chime in

Johnny Cab from Blade Runner:


  1. I actually love the self checkout lanes. I've become a pro at it. I know there are a lot of slow people that hog up the lane, but I can completely check myself out in under 30 seconds. At the grocery store, I already know ahead of time when I purchase soda or something, you have to put it on the scale or else you have to push the "do not bag this item" button, which just slows things down. And if you're buying fruit, just push the "look up item" button, select the fruit, and put it on the scale.

    But I've been to a self check out at IKEA and I know what you're talking about. Nobody knows how to do it, and the employee just stands there and scans everything for you, which completely defeats the purpose. At least that's what she did with me, because she just assumed I didn't know how to do it.

    But you're right, it does replace employees. You only need one employee for 6 machines. At the employee's podium thing they have a screen with the purchases of every self check out register popping up in real time, and sometimes they even have a screen with overhead cameras, so they can see if you're trying to steal something.
    Don't think you can get away with stealing at the self check out. You probably have a better chance of getting away with it at the regular check out. It knows the weight of every single thing you buy, and if it's even slightly off, it will stop and notify the attendant, and they have to come and punch in a code.
    Also if you try to buy anything with an age restriction, it alerts the attendant and sometimes they may ask for an I.D. I know certain places like Wal-Mart you have to be at least 16 to buy certain things like white out? It's kind of weird. When I'm buying something I know has a restriction on it, I use the regular check out because I don't want to wait for the machine to alert the assistant, sometimes it takes them forever to come over to you.

    So yeah. I think maybe eventually once people start getting the hang of it, it's going to completely replace regular check outs. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

  2. Self-checkouts are a nice option for some people, especially me. I'm fairly efficient at scanning a bar code and putting stuff in bags, so I always hit the self-checkout. My dad, on the other hand, hates them for the reason you mention - taking away jobs. He refuses to use them.

    Ultimately, I don't mind self-checkout lanes, as long as there are still lanes with cashiers to help people who aren't comfortable with self-checkout...or for people like my dad who don't agree with the principle of replacing people's jobs with machines.

    And related to your comment about Johnny Cab and automated cars, they're going to be here a lot sooner than most people think.

  3. Uggh... Google. I'm starting to really hate this company. I'm not hating on the self driving vehicle, but Google just holds *too* much power in my view. I can see Mass transit making the switch, Buses, and cabs, would save tons on having robotic drivers.. Thanks for the link n1ck