Brandi Lloyd: Do you share my self checkout fury?

A self-checkout counter concept developed by Wanzl and Würth. (Photo: Wanzl)

I understand my opinion may cause me to be perceived as entitled.

Everyone is well acquainted with self checkout lanes at grocery stores, and when I am there to grab 1 to 2 items, I typically have no issue with using this. However, we are seeing more and more self checkout machines.

Today while at the grocery store, the lines are as long as the length of the entire store. More and more often they have fewer registers open and manned with cashiers. When I typically have a larger quantity of items, I want to be able to go through and have some assistance scanning and bagging everything, especially after I have already worked all day. But often, the moment I get up to the cashier, the bagger takes off and I am left to bag my groceries.

Now this has nothing to do with feeling like this job is beneath me. It has everything to do with the stores continually increasing prices, decreasing quality, and me providing free labor.

My husband and I understood that after the pandemic, everyone was having staffing issues, and the grocery stores were working frantically just to keep the shelves stocked and people supplied. I know they had to deal with awful people treating them poorly. I am in health care, I truly got it. COVID was awful for everyone! Now we have moved toward the light at the end of the tunnel and the stores have realized they can cut costs dramatically by forcing people to scan and bag their groceries. Today was an exceptionally unpleasant experience.

We are going through self checkout with many items and the weighted scales that you bag your items into often struggle to recognize very lightweight objects like fresh spices, gravy packets, etc. The cashier must come over several times because the machine thinks we aren’t bagging things. She proceeds to check the cameras to ensure we aren’t stealing.

So, now we are being assumed criminals and told if I don’t check you, everyone that is stealing thinks they can get away with it. Ma’am, I just want to get out of here.

I was provided no training on how to use these machines, or be a cashier or bagger. I say with a slight jest, “Will I be required to stock the shelves soon?”

I think to myself, if they are never told people despise self checkout, they’ll never know and continue down this pathway. I am feeling cantankerous by this point and inform her they need more cashiers out front to assist with these lines. She informs us that within three years, the major grocery chain is transitioning to only self check-out.

Now, why should retailers get away with free labor when most other industries would not be allowed to do this? For example, I am a nurse, how would you feel if the next time you were in the hospital and needed a procedure like having an IV placed and I informed you, “Sir/Madam, I’m sorry to inform you that due to budget cuts, staffing concerns and lower profit margins, you are going to have to place your IVs now?”

What if that then extended to other things like having a chest tube placed, or administering chemo? Let’s consider other industries, for example, construction. You hire someone to pour and set concrete for your driveway and the contractor says, due to recent changes that have nothing to do with you, I’m afraid you will need to pour your concrete, but I will stand over here and watch you.

If you mess up, I will criticize you and roll my eyes at your idiocy for not knowing how to do this with no training. I get this may all sound dramatized, and you may even think to yourself, this is crazy, this would never happen! Maybe both things are true, but the result is the same. Someone untrained, unpaid, is doing the work while the companies rake in the profits.

The other factors not considered are for individuals who may struggle with technology or who may physically struggle to lift and remove, repeatedly heavy items like cases of water. Moving to nothing but self checkout lanes also assumes that everyone coming through can use them. Especially when the technology itself is problematic.

If I go grocery shopping once a week (assuming I’ve not forgotten or run out of anything), and it takes me 5 to 15 minutes to scan, bag, and reload my cart that time adds up. Over 60 years from adulthood to my death, presuming I live to be 80, I will have spent approximately 9,360 minutes doing unpaid labor. That’s 156 hours and if I only made minimum wage (unlikely if you spend 60 years working the same job), I’ll have had $1,131 taken from me.

Now, sure we can choose not to go and spend our money at businesses we don’t support, but I think we can all make the same assumption that if one store chain is allowed to do this, they all will. I haven’t yet discussed how many jobs will be lost in this process. Our economy today is already tough to earn a livable wage. The cost of everything is rising 10 times faster than the wages are increasing. Zip recruiter says the average wage of a cashier is $13.32 an hour so that puts it up to $2,067 over 60 years of someone scanning and bagging their groceries. Multiply that by millions of people…

In Rhode Island, Democratic state Rep. Megan Cotter decided to do something about this. They have created a bill that would restrict the number of self checkout lanes a store can have to 8 open at one time and made it so that if you scan and bag your groceries, you get a 10% discount. At least this provides choice and protects some jobs. This may not seem like much but at least the issue is acknowledged. Sure, many people may then rush to self checkout for the discount, but at least you are not just giving your time to a company for free. Cotter’s bill has yet to pass, and maybe it won’t but the attempt at addressing what many of us are thinking provides some sense of joy (Matyszczyk, 2023).

Utah should consider this issue. Maybe I’m only one of a few that take issue with this but I decided nothing will change if people don’t speak up!


Supermarket hot head Brandi Lloyd

Brandi Lloyd Hewitt, op-ed