Self-checkout lines have existed for decades. I don’t know if they were nationwide, but Walmart had them in the ’90s at the grocery store I worked in through college (I lived near the home office, so it may have been a pilot program). They were largely ignored by customers, although it was very easy to steal items while using them. In the years since, self-checkout lines have become more popular, but mostly for express-lane shoppers who had fewer items. Grocery stores, nevertheless, maintained a full roster of cashiers and baggers.
Post-pandemic, the number of cashiers in many grocery stores has decreased significantly while the number of self-checkout lines has increased (this is decidedly not the case at Trader Joe’s where wages are better). A lot of customers have therefore been pushed to the self-checkout lines if only to avoid the 20-minute lines. It’s not just for express shoppers anymore, either: Customers have begun to go through self-checkout lines with full carts of groceries.
Customers have strong feelings about this, although opinions are divided. Many hate it because they’d prefer not to do the work themselves, they want to support retail jobs, and self-checkout lines are finicky. I personally prefer them, if only because it allows me to put to use the four years of cashier experience (I still remember the UPC codes for some of the produce (4011 — banana!) and because I prefer to bag my own groceries. However, if you get caught behind someone who has no idea how to use the self-checkout register, it can be beyond frustrating.
On the other hand, while one might assume that some of the savings are passed on to customers, the frequency with which people steal from self-checkout lines probably offsets those savings while decreasing the number of available jobs. While many of those jobs are exhausting and low-wage, they can offer room for advancement for some folks who might not otherwise have paths toward jobs in management. On the other hand, many stores have moved to self-checkout lines out of necessity because, in a tight labor market, they can’t fill many of their cashier positions anyway.
Twitter took up the issue over the weekend in response to a CNN article, and while some opinions were anticipated, some were unexpected:
It’s not even really shoplifting when you don’t pay for stuff in the self checkout because you are not a trained cashier and mistakes happen— ðŸ”ªðŸ”ªðŸ”ªbÐ¯yanðŸ”ªðŸ”ªðŸ”ª (@murderxbryan) July 10, 2022
saw a headline that said "nobody likes self-checkout"— KðŸ”ªðŸŽƒ (@dropoutninja) July 10, 2022
but as an awkward semispeaking autistic who likes to bag my own groceries a very specific way, I actually do like self-checkout
I’ll take self checkout over human interaction any day of the week, so shut the fuck up CNN. pic.twitter.com/KvO5Fhq7wO— Sophia Narwitz (@SophiaNarwitz) July 10, 2022
As a trans person who takes a gamble every time they interact with a stranger in public and sometimes doesn’t have the spoons to hazard it I think self checkout is great pic.twitter.com/t0APD8Brtv— ðŸ³ï¸â€âš§ï¸TimmieðŸ³ï¸â€âš§ï¸ (@haytimmie) July 10, 2022
Don’t be complicit with neoliberalism. Save a cashier’s job; skip the self-checkout! https://t.co/mgGlRQs8VJ— Jamie Callahan (@ProfJamieC) July 10, 2022
i can't stand the self-checkout app-for-that no-interaction direction our bullshit society has headed. other people are what makes life worth living— ben flores redemption arc (@limitlessjest) July 9, 2022
Some of the people in my replies who are justifying self checkout should just come out and say that they don't want to think about all of the people from farm workers to grocery workers who are part of our food supply chain.— Caroline, Poltergoose PhD (@carolinecprogro) July 11, 2022
I almost never opt for self-checkout, because I don't want to make it easy for the bourgeoisie.— Anti-Fatalist is building a new social network â˜ (@antifatalism) July 11, 2022
Wait I hate self-checkout pic.twitter.com/ZqyBFGyN48— Sarah Lehr (@SarahGLehr) July 11, 2022
I personally believe that the self-checkout experience would be more pleasant if they also played this song over the checkout line speakers (also featured on the soundtrack for The Bear):