On Self-Service Check-Outs and Autistics

Before you start celebrating the reduction of the number of self-service check-outs in grocery stores, please think of the many autistics for whom a self-service counter is often the only way to purchase food in a non-traumatic manner.

A supermarket cashier can at least try to find another job. An autistic can do nothing to stop being who s/he is.

27 thoughts on “On Self-Service Check-Outs and Autistics

  1. If I have the option, I’ll always use self-checkout, since I hate having to maneuver with strangers any more than is absolutely necessary. Especially in supermarkets, where slow oblivious people bump about down narrow aisles rarely looking out for who’s trying to go swiftly in anticipation of getting the hell out of there, or worse two entire families might block the way so they can have a nice leisurely chat. Meanwhile everyone can see what embarrassing personal hygiene thing you might have to buy and that’s all before trying to navigate your buttload of groceries through the parking lot full of SUVs driven by assholes paying no attention to overladen pedestrians. What they need to do instead of getting rid of self-checkout is make some kind of teleportation device where I make selections and swipe my card and it zaps my groceries directly into my refrigerator and pantry so that I never have to go to the goddamn supermarket ever again. Where are we on R&D for that? Isn’t this the future or what?

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        1. Oh yes, it totally is. Many autistics self-medicate with alcohol to relieve social stress. Not to say that you are autistic, of course.

          Come to think of it, though, you do have that very sarcastic sense of humor. And you are good with words. And you love reading. Hmmmmm….. 🙂 🙂

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    1. In CT there was a grocery delivery system. You’d order online and they’d deliver. Oh, the happiness, the joy. Especially for the carless people.

      One thing I would totally like to see is self checkouts at coffee shops. I live for coffee but coffee-shops are stressful because people who work there keep bombarding you with cryptic questions. “Mild or traditional? regular or decaf? what size? sweetened?”
      And my all-time favorite, “Room?” It took me several tries to figure out they meant to ask whether I wanted room to be left in my cup for milk or cream. I always take my coffee black because any other choice will unleash yet another string of questions. “Soy? Skim? Half&half?”

      Oy.

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  2. Even though I am not autistic I much prefer self-checkouts. They are faster and you don’t have to worry about idle chit chat holding up the line and keeping you there longer than you need to be (I’m not autistic but I have anxiety issues so this will get to me in fairly short order).

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    1. There are also people who keep inching closer and closer to one for some reason. Like that will make the line go any faster.

      For me, Internet shopping has been a true blessing. Even at a bookstore where customers are supposed to wander around for a long time, browsing through books, reading here and there, you always meet helpful store assistants who start asking you questions.

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    2. I much prefer self-checkouts. They are faster

      I have seen the data on this and they are not faster. Not by a mile. A trained cashier moves item past the scanner and into the bagging area between 3 and 10 times faster than a customer doing self-checkout.

      Part of this is the brain-dead user interface requesting you to place each item one at time in the bag, as opposed to the way cashiers do, which is just slide them down and bag later.

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      1. If RFID tags get cheap enough, you’ll be able to take a basket full of groceries past a scanner and pay with a credit card.

        It just struck me what self checkouts *should* look like. They should look like regular checkout lanes, but either angled toward the helper/watcher so that helper/watcher can see what’s going on at all the lanes, or else have cameras pointing to them so the helper/watcher can see what’s going on at all the lanes. Oh and with the divider on the other side so the customer can easily get to the conveyor belts.

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      2. Perhaps but does the data account on (what I think) is best described as human laziness which causes people to go to checkout lines with cashiers meaning that the cashiers have a line to wait through while the self checkout lines rarely have a line.

        So by faster I’m meaning waiting 5-7 minutes to finally get your turn when in that 5-7 I can self check out and be gone. Also bear in mind that most of my shopping trips involve a small amount (usually less than 15) items. Now if we are talking a cart load for a family of 4 then you are more than likely right and a cashier/bagger combo would be faster than self checkout.

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  3. I think the smart retail chains will come to realize they need both manned [sic] and unmanned [sic] checkouts to make everyone happy. I hope so, anyway. I also opt for the unmanned checkout when possible. I also prefer what NT’s refer to as ‘voice mail hell’ over ‘getting through to a person,’ which they talk about as if it’s the Holy Grail. More often than not, the person in question is selling something. A few years ago when I called a bank to report a lost ATM card I was dismayed to find they offered no automated way to handle this, and ‘got through to a person’ who asked me if I’d be interested in a second mortgage. And of course the dupermarket cashiers are selling me everything from lottery tickets to cash withdrawals. One sure economic barometer: What percent of people’s job descriptions is sales of some kind or another, and is it increasing? Or a peek at the want ads: Do the Big 3 recession-proof occupations absolutely dominate? Those being sales, collections, and security.

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    1. ” I also prefer what NT’s refer to as ‘voice mail hell’ over ‘getting through to a person,’ which they talk about as if it’s the Holy Grail. ”

      -Oh, I know, I know! What’s so super duper great about talking to a “real” person anyways?

      As for jobs in sales, as far as I know, there are still very many of them but they now offer either extremely low base salaries or no base salary at all. Which means that you only live on commission if there is any. 😦 😦

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      1. What’s so super duper great about talking to a “real” person anyways?

        That they understand what you want without having to repeat it several times because either it didn’t understand what you said, or it did understand the word you said and somehow decided that “dispute a charge” means “make a payment”.

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        1. “That they understand what you want without having to repeat it several times because either it didn’t understand what you said, or it did understand the word you said and somehow decided that “dispute a charge” means “make a payment”.”

          – Machines understand me much better than human beings. 🙂

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  4. I like them too. I’m very fast and efficient and I like looking up the number for the cilantro (or whatever) and punching it in. I like using up all my change if nobody is waiting behind me, feeding all my pennies and nickels into the coin slot. I like not having to talk to anyone I don’t know at the store. (Not autistic.)

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  5. Ha, I’m the opposite. Self checkouts freeze me up and make me feel incompetent, and are always yelling at me for not putting things down, or putting too many things down even though I am only putting down what I’m supposed to. They stress me out and ruin my day, so I always get in person-checkout lines, even if they’re long. My husband likes to use the self-checkout, and I wander off to look at magazine covers while he does so that I don’t have to deal with any of it’s many ways to start beeping at me and malfunctioning.

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    1. and are always yelling at me for not putting things down, or putting too many things down even though I am only putting down what I’m supposed to.

      I love machines and technology (ATMs are a god send, even back in the day when it was fashionable to bitch about them), so I was looking forward to using self-checkout when first announced. I hate them precisely because the reasons you state.

      It also turns out that my weird shopping habits make the machine trip up and I always end up having to have the attendant come to punch some special authorization code, so so much for the autistic advantage. I’m not autistic by any extent of the imagination, but I prefer say, internet bank payments over face-to-face interaction on the bank.

      Down with self-checkout lanes, at least until the technology is ready (like just push the cart past transponders who read RFID tags).

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  6. I like self-checkouts generally, except when I’m purchasing something that requires ID (like cough syrup or alcohol). Which, in the event of the latter, is not infrequently. Where I live, the self-checkouts tend to be staffed in such a way that to ask for assistance and authorization to purchase an age-restricted item calls for more attention to be drawn to oneself and more human interaction than would going through a traditional checkout lane.

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  7. If I’m going to do the job of a cashier I would like to be compensated for it in some way. I hate that grocery stores have outsourced cashier jobs to their customers without passing on any of their savings. I always used the regular checkouts because I love small talk and interacting with people, but now I do it as a matter of principle.

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    1. Nice to have you back, Stringer Bell. I understand and respect your position but I’n one of those people who are terrified when we hear the words “small talk.”

      As I said, I think both systems of checking out should exist simultaneously to accommodate all of us.

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    2. This too. The facts that the savings are not passed on is irritating. Do you know that some stores even experimented with a $1 surcharge, yes, you read that right, surcharge for using self-checkout lanes?

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      1. ” Do you know that some stores even experimented with a $1 surcharge, yes, you read that right, surcharge for using self-checkout lanes?”

        – The world is hostile to introverts.

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      2. Hah! I’m guessing it takes the staff more time to troubleshoot the “self checkout” lines than it does for them to work the cash registers! Those things are so hairtrigger! Most of them run on Windows NT.

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  8. Cashiers here don’t talk very much, and what they do say tends to be very predictable and call for very predictable responses. Not too bad for me. The self-checkouts have limited bagging space, annoying and glitchy software that tries to match what you buy to how much weight is in the bagging space (how does that stop people from stealing, exactly?), and getting one of those little plastic bags to open is nontrivial. I’m going with the regular checkout when I can.

    Any intercom or telephone system between me and the person, on the other hand, really bugs me for some reason. Maybe because the sound quality usually sucks? I’m eagerly awaiting the day that drive-thrus ditch the intercom and move the touch-screen menus outside, and customer service moves off the phone and completely onto the web (using self-service web apps that don’t suck).

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    1. “Any intercom or telephone system between me and the person, on the other hand, really bugs me for some reason.”

      – Yes! Me, too! That’s torture to me. I just get confused and have no idea what is even being said to me.

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