I have a love/hate relationship with my local chain grocery store. It's certainly convenient. I often find great artisan cheese or half-priced organic or grass-fed meat when I hit it on the right day. They have a decent variety in the organic produce section, although the freshness can be an issue.
But this is the same grocery store, that plays fast and loose with the word local, like the time the New Jersey store sold wild, locally caught Alaskan cod that was a product of Iceland. It's the same store where cashiers always seem to sneak at least one plastic bag into my reusable bags. (Last week, the cashier put a 5-pound bag of a sugar into a plastic bag while I wasn't looking, and then stuck that bag into my reusable bag.)
Nothing gets me more flummoxed, however, than using the self-checkout lane. Many times I've waited in line for a self-checkout machine, only to get up to the machine to find a sign that says it can't take cash, or it can't take credit, or it can't dispense cash back. I never go through the lane without having to ask for help several times, not because I don't know what I'm doing but because the machine doesn't like that I bring my own bags or it's confused by my half-priced meat. The screen seems to find far many reasons to flash "Please wait for cashier's assistance," and that's annoying.
Still, in a store that usually has long lines and fewer cashiers than it seems it should have, I use the self-checkout lane frequently. I want to get out quickly, and even with the obstacles, it's usually quicker. My choice is informed by the fact that I'm always in a hurry. But I've discovered that some people are influenced by very different criteria.
Interacting with people
I asked my Facebook friends whether they liked to use the self-checkout lane and why. I expected most people probably used them and had similar issues as I did. What I didn't expect was a discussion about the choice coming down to whether the shopper wanted to interact with a cashier or not.
Some people use self-checkout so they don't have to talk to anyone. (Apparently, their experience is different than mine and they don't have to call over an employee two or three times.) More than one person said they always avoid a checkout line with a cashier because of anxiety. One young woman said she uses the self-checkout lane as often as possible because she's an introvert.
On the other hand, there were those who wanted to interact with a cashier simply because they like people and enjoy chatting with cashiers. One friend said she thinks "the human interaction is still fundamentally important."
"I tend to like to support employment, so I normally use the human being checkout line," my brother-in-law commented. He wasn't the only one. Several other people agreed that using the cashier lines was important because it helped keep people employed.
Control vs. lack of control
Some people use self-checkout so they can control things. How fast they get out and having control over how their groceries get packed were top reasons for going without a cashier.
Others feel they give up control when using the self-checkout lane because the computer reacts poorly, there can be human error, there may be difficulty with payment, and when they need help with these things, an employee's attention can be difficult to get. So these people choose a cashier to avoid those issues.
Speed sometimes wins out
Almost everyone who said they preferred to use a cashier said they would use the self-checkout lane if they only had a few items and the cashier lines were long. However, when it comes to someone with a toddler, like my niece, using the cashier can be the quicker option because a toddler's "help" can slow things down.
While the reasons people use or don't use the self-checkout lane can be interesting and unexpected, I thought of something while reading everyone's responses. A discussion like this — one that starts with a simple, seemingly trivial question — can make people realize their feelings are shared by others. There was a lot of "me, too" sentiment happening with the discussion, particularly by those who used self-checkout because they wanted to avoid talking to someone.
As lifestyle blogger Starre Vartan pointed out, "It's interesting that so many people have anxiety or are introverted enough that this is one of the reasons cited. I never would have guessed that! At least three other comments about that make me feel 'I'm not alone!' (even though I prefer to be alone)."
Anything that makes us feel less alone in this world, less like our thoughts and feelings aren't understood by anyone else, is important and incredibly helpful.