Automated Checkout

On the way out of Home Despot today (planting urn, blinds, butterfly bolts), found that the fastest line seemed to be the one with no tellers at all. It’s finally happened — fully automated checkout. You scan and bag your own items as a gentle robotic female voice describes your purchases and tells you whether any “unexpected objects” are in the way. If you have anything too large, an attendant overrides and runs over with a hand scanner. When done, pay the machine via cash, credit, ATM, even get cash back.

Technically, it’s not that different from a you-pay petrol pump. Conceptually, it seems like a leap forward as significant as the ATM machine – humans gave up their jobs for your convenience (Home Despot claims that no one has been laid off as a result — clerks have merely been moved onto the floor, which in their case makes sense – nowhere is it harder to get floor help).

During the industrial revolution, saboteurs fearing that machines would leave humans high and dry threw their boots into the cogs of machines to break them (sabot is French for boot, hence the word saboteur. No one at Home Despot seemed to have any similar inclination, the system works marvelously. It was a trip to think that Miles is born into a world where the checkout clerk is becoming a thing of the past.

Music: The Fugs :: Ah, Sunflower Weary of Time

9 Replies to “Automated Checkout”

  1. There are a lot of supermarkets that do the same thing. There are still plenty of people who seem uncomfortable using those checkout lines, but they are almost always faster, in my experience. At those places they keep one attendant for maybe 4 checkout scanners; I think in theory that person keeps an eye on the proceedings to make sure no one’s sneaking through without paying.

  2. They have had those exact same checkout systems in the Shaw’s/Star Market supermarkets here in the NE since I moved to Boston over 2 years ago. I was surprised but pleased when I saw them installed in the Home Depot….

    I find, however, that the lines are only faster when they are empty, because the likelyhood that you are going to get stuck behind a feeb who can’t figure out the complex technology is VERY high.

  3. time to prepare for what was described by RA Wilson as i think the leisure society. everyone bets to hang out, get stoned, make art, love, peace, while machines take care of everything else. everyone the GNP is divvied up so everyone gets an equal share.

    bring it on.

  4. Ludovic, thanks for the correction. English doesn’t have a specific word for those – we just say “wooden shoes.” There is an attendant monitoring four checkouts at once, but even so, I was wondering what would prevent people from simply not scanning things (ie. stealing).

  5. sabot is colloquially used for shoe.

    they’ve had these .. whaddya call em? (ACM’s) automated checker machines in the big box stores of the North West for a few years now too. Freddie Meyer etc….

    I had such a hard time the other day finding a checker at Circuit City on Sunday that I just walked out of the store. It was only a AA battery charger.

  6. Does anyone else see that this is the next step in the movement to end the low-paying jobs?? First they de-skilled the position of a cashier by adding scanners, now they are eliminating the need to hire people. What’s next, serve yourself at McD’s?

  7. Yesterday, I went to Kroger and used the automated checkout. Do you have this in your city?
    Basically, you scan your own items and put them in the bag. Everything goes smoothly unless you remove the bag prematurely and place the bag in your cart.”Please place the item back in the bag,” says the automated voice.”Excuse me?” you say back.The automated voice can’t hear you. Instead, it repeats: “Please place the item back in the bag.” “But my item is in the bag!” I explain. “And the bag’s in my cart.” A short Kroger woman came over and told me to put the bag back on the bag hook because it’s weighted.”But how am I supposed to start the next bag?” I pleaded.”Please place the item back in the bag,” said the automated voice.”Argh!” Then, tonight, at Whole Foods, I used human checkout. Do you have this in your city? This woman was a little batty. She decided to tell me her life story, even though there was an antsy line waiting behind me. What do you do in that situation? Where the checkout woman is talking your ear off and stalling and you know that if you engage her the whole line will groan but if you don’t she’ll be offended? Here’s what you do. You say: “Please place the item back in the bag.” She’ll say: “Excuse me?” And just keep repeating yourself. She’ll stop talking real fast.

  8. They do not work flawlessly.

    I found what I suspect is a software bug.

    No, I won’t describe step to reproduce since it ended up giving me 9 extra cents (which I turned over to the school-age cashier).

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