Tales From the Self-Checkout Station

10 common misconceptions that keep me frequently entertained at work

For many years now, I have been a self-checkout attendant at a grocery store. I get tremendous satisfaction from helping people and teaching them how to master the art of self-checkout if they are newcomers. There is a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never checked yourself out before — practice makes perfect and all that.

However, sometimes I have to shake my head at people and wonder, “what are you thinking?”

Allow me to present ten amusing misconceptions that customers demonstrate rather frequently:

1. I can pile my entire grocery order on the tiny shelf beside the scanner.

This one always amuses me. Our self-checkout machines have a rather large bagging area with plenty of open space to place your items. Yet time and time again, I witness people scan their items and try to fit everything onto the tiny shelf beside the scanner. It’s so backward. Take advantage of the space — you will find it much easier (and probably less stressful) in the long run.

2. I can pile all of my items on the scanner, and the machine will still scan things.

No. You can’t. The scanners also double as scales for ringing in things like produce items. If you pile multiple articles on top of the scale and continue trying to scan other things, the machine gets confused and promptly throws a hissy fit. It even gives you a friendly prompt to remove excess items from the scanner before you can continue.

Do yourself a favor — listen to the machine and get your stuff out of the way! Things will go a lot faster if you choose to cooperate with the technology.

3. You need to swipe your payment card at the beginning of your order.

Many people seem to be under the impression that they need to swipe their debit/credit card through the machine at the beginning of the order and get confused when the device doesn’t react in the slightest.

First of all, you haven’t rung anything in yet! You can’t pay for a non-existent bill. Secondly, do you expect the machine to read your mind? If you haven’t even started your order yet, the device has no idea what you’re attempting to do. It just wants you to scan your items already!

Kindly wait until you’ve rung in all of your items before reaching for a payment card.

4. The machine can scan an item 3 times by itself.

“I don’t know what happened. The machine just scanned my item 3 times!”… Well, here’s the scoop: you passed your item across the scanner multiple times, and guess what happened? Suddenly you’re buying three of the same thing.

The scanner can’t scan something without your assistance. It’s not a conspiracy. Keep your item away from the scanner unless you mean to ring it in. The scanners are pretty sensitive — but they’re not magical. They can’t scan your item if you don’t put the object near the scanner.

Take some responsibility for your actions and learn from the error of your ways to avoid future mishaps.

5. The machine will scan the “barcode” on your produce items.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve witnessed people slamming their bananas into the scanner in a fruitless attempt at making it read the little sticker on them. I’ve got news for you, folks — that’s not actually a barcode you’re seeing. No matter how hard you try, they will not scan.

The sticker’s whole point is that it contains the PLU (price look-up) code: that little number you can type in is what tells the machine which item you’re attempting to ring in. So while it’s rather amusing to watch people wave their apples and oranges across the scanner in a fervent manner, it will not get you any closer to finishing your order.

6. The machine is a mind reader. It will just know what I’m trying to ring in if I place it on the scanner.

Contrary to popular belief, the self-checkout machine is not an omniscient being. It won’t magically ring in your produce items just by placing them on the scanner. You have to do a little work here. Throw the machine a bone and tell it what you are trying to do — I promise you will be happier for the effort.

7. The machine is a mind reader: Part 2. I can swipe my payment card without telling the machine what I want to do first.

Once again, the machine is NOT an omniscient being (see number 6). You can swipe your credit or debit card 100 times with increasingly frantic techniques, and the machine is still going to be sitting there idle.

You have to tell the device what you want it to do first!

There are multiple methods available to pay for your items, and as convenient as it would be for the machine to know things without us telling it what to do, we are not living in that futuristic space world yet. So, for now, kindly push the appropriate buttons and give the machine proper instructions if you expect it to respond promptly.

8. There are multiple places to swipe your credit/debit card.

I’ve seen customers attempt to swipe their payment cards in the oddest places — the gap between the scanner, the receipt printer, the hole in the machine where the wires come through for the scanner — everywhere but in the logical place: the actual debit/credit machine!

It seems rather evident to me, but people struggle with this one a lot. You can swipe your card in any number of places, but the only one that’s going to do you any good is the appropriate machine designed to process your cards.

9. The machine can scan your debit/credit card like any other item you’re buying.

Going along with number 8, I promise you that no matter how many times you swipe your payment card across the scanner, it will not get you any further towards completing your purchase.

First of all, do you see a barcode anywhere on your debit/credit card? No? Well, then the scanner will not read it!

A little common sense goes a long way, folks. Swipe your cards in the appropriate spots if you expect to see results.

10. My jokes are wholly original and funny.

Have you ever had an issue scanning an item and found yourself uttering the words “if it doesn’t scan, it must be free!?”… yeah, so have a million other people. Yet every time I hear this joke (which seems like 100 times a day sometimes), the person telling it appears to think they are entirely original and worse — they think they are actually funny.

Another common refrain is, “you were waiting just for me, weren’t you?” Yup, that’s right. I’ve been standing here my entire shift just wondering when you were going to grace us with your presence. You caught me! *insert eye roll*

Do yourself (and us!) a favor and come up with some new material. Be original. I promise the staff will much better receive you if you’re not rehashing the same tired routine we’ve heard since the dawn of time.

Final Thoughts

Self-checkout machines can be a quick and efficient way to ring in your groceries. You will find the process goes much smoother when you avoid the common misconceptions listed above. Follow instructions as they come up, tell the machine what you want to do each step of the way, and if you are unsure of what to do next? Ask for help! We are happy to assist you, and your problem will likely get resolved much quicker than if you stand there struggling to figure out where you went wrong.

… But by all means, continue to keep us amused if you wish.

I am a 38 year old dreamer who is living with Scoliosis. I’m an avid reader and a total nerd at heart. I like to share my thoughts on things.

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