HomeFoodLoathe self-checkouts? There may be more coming

Loathe self-checkouts? There may be more coming

Bad news for people who hate self-checkouts, supermarket self-service is only going to become more prevalent, according to an industry expert.

Australian Institute of Management WA executive director Professor Gary Martin told The West Australian that self-checkouts arrived on the scene promising to reduce queues, reduce the inconvenience of price checks and eliminate unwanted human interaction.

“Years later, there is still a requirement to line up, customers untrained in the act of self-checkout clog up the bagging area and a frazzled lone staff member is left to tend to far-ranging customer crises including produce weighing woes, scanning snags and loyalty card let-downs,” Prof. Martin says.

“The introduction of self-service payment counters in supermarkets checks out as one of the most significant shifts in the retail experience in years – and it has not been smooth scanning.

Not time savers

“Many customers have finally realised that while self-service checkouts might look like they save us time, they do not.”

Prof. Martin says that despite the hostility towards self-checkouts, the technology is only going to accelerate with technologically advanced shopping trolleys called smart carts.

AI-powered smart carts allow shoppers to completely bypass checkout lines.

Smart carts use cameras and other tech in or on the cart to provide a running tally of what’s in or coming out of your trolley. 

The cart can also suggest complementary items, for example, if you pick some cold medication, it may also recommend tissues. It can also direct you to a product you need.

What it costs

You then simply hand over your card or cash to a staff member to pay.

If this all sounds good to you, and Prof. Martin says it’s coming, there is a big barrier to implementation, and that is it costs a motza.

The whole store needs to be retrofitted and the trolleys alone are expensive, coming in at US$5000-$10,000. And people love stealing trolleys, so I imagine some sort of tracking system would have to be installed and that would add to the cost.

It may be cheaper to just pay more staff. 

“At the end of the day, if you prefer to be served rather than self-serve, do not think you are off your trolley,” Prof. Martin says.

“There are thousands of customers in the same shopping lane as you.

“The only way to register your preference with large supermarket chiefs is to stick to the checkout queue where human connections remain an important item.”

History of service in grocery stores

You would have to be of a certain age to remember handing your weekly grocery list to a clerk wearing a thick apron, who then went about selecting your choices and then packing them up.

Many items weren’t even packaged. You could buy flour, sugar, biscuits and other essentials by weight – even kerosene. If it sounds dangerous, it was.

You could then take the order home yourself or have it delivered. I know this because my father did those deliveries back in the day. There was no such thing as refrigerated transport and getting the orders delivered before the butter melted in the hot sun was something that required a certain amount of corner cutting when it came to the laws around speeding.

Coles and Woolworths began trialling checkouts in 1956 and by 1960 both chains had opened their first supermarkets.

Items were individually priced using stamps and then stickers and barcodes were introduced in 1979, but did not become widespread until the late 1980s.

This week’s best deals


Sensible: Seedless watermelon, $2.49/kilo. There are few things more enjoyable than biting into a crunchy watermelon on a hot day and it looks like we are going to have plenty of those in the coming months. Start early with this special

Indulgence: James Squire 10-pack, $40. Not a terribly good special, but I am loving ginger beer as an alternative to beer. Great ice cold on a hot day. Add a squeeze of lime to give it a bit of a zing.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Rana Tomato and Mozzarella Tortellini, $5.49. This brand sells for $8 a pack at other supermarkets, so stock up here. One of the best filled supermarket pasta shapes on the market. It’s a delight to find in the back of the fridge on a night you can’t be bothered cooking.

Indulgence: Who Gives A Crap Christmas edition toilet paper, $13.99. I love silly Aldi products and it doesn’t get much sillier than Christmas patterned toilet paper. Aldi suggests stacking them in a pyramid shape to build a Christmas tree. Of course they do.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Coles Green Olives with Chilli and Garlic, half price, $12. Not really sensible unless you love olives and then it’s very sensible. Flavour bomb with the salty olives plus chilli and garlic. You can only really eat two at a time, so they should last a while.

Indulgence: Coles Beechwood Smoke Ham half leg, $8/kg. Who says you must wait until Christmas to have Christmas ham? The ham police? This product is priced cheaper than last year and instead of Hamuary you could have Hamvember. Get cracking. Plus you can freeze leg ham if you want to keep it for Christmas.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Australian Lamb Leg, $8/kg. Lamb prices continue to fall. You may not feel like a lamb roast in the hot weather, but with a bit of elbow grease you can cut them up for any number of lamb dishes such as a light curry or stir fry. Hard to beat at these prices.

Indulgence: Arnott’s shapes, half price at $2. I mean, who doesn’t like Arnott’s shapes? There is a flavour for everyone. Except Cheese and Bacon, no-one likes them.

See the catalogue here.

How do you feel about self-checkouts? Would you use a smart cart? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Nine kitchen hacks from celebrity chefs

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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