Thursday, March 20, 2008

Check yourself out!

Once upon a time my wife called me and said, "I just checked myself out at Wal-Mart!" I started laughing, causing her to realize what she'd said. I knew what she meant of course: the "self checkout line" at Wal-Mart.

In theory, a great concept. However, like all other lines at our local Wal-Mart, it's become horribly congested. You can't get out of our local Wal-Mart in less than 15 minutes unless you simply don't buy something. Not even in the speedy-check-out line (20 items or less? come on! that doesn't save anyone any time!), of which usually there is only one open at any given time, with a line that stretches back at least twice as far as the "regular" check-out lines, thus negating any benefit from the fact that the people in the line are only carrying (typically) 25-30 items. (They really should put a limit on the scanner at that type of lane such that, once you've reached the 20th item, it will no longer allow any more items to be scanned - that might help ward off those who have more than the "max number of items," which ceases to be a "max" when you don't enforce the limit.)

Anyway, back to the self-check-out. Today I had one item. One, tiny, clearance, $1 item. I was third in line at the self-check-out (on the other side of the store from where I'd come in, of course). Naturally the people in front of me, with 40+ items, didn't offer to let me go ahead of them, even though (when I finally got there) it only took me about a minute to check out. Instead, I had to wait another 10 minutes while she struggled with the self-check-out counter, having to get the clerk to come and reset things a few times (apparently once you select "skip bagging" more than three or four times, it requires self-check-out clerk assistance to reset the scanner so you can continue the process), trying to figure out how to scan weighed (vegetable) items, etc. A total of about 20 minutes I spent in the self-check-out lane (one of six open at the time, out of eight total self-check-out lanes). During this time, I watched an older lady across the way, again in a self-check-out lane, being assisted by the self-check-out clerk as well as two or three other customers behind her.

I had a thought. They should have a self-check-out test. If you pass the test, you get a self-check-out card that entitles and enables you to use the self-check-out lanes. If you don't have the "self-check-out qualification card" you aren't eligible to use the self-check-out lanes (i.e., you have to scan your "self-check-out card" before it enables the self-check-out lane and allows you to scan items).

That, and they should have a "one-item" lane where you can scan only one item (possibly self-check-out, but again with the self-check-out card required, such that you can't self-check-out more than one item by making repeated transactions; once you've used the self-check-out card in the one-item lane, it has a timeout before it will allow you to use the card in that lane again, unless overridden by a self-check-out clerk, such as when it's 3 am and you're the only person in the store and no other self-check-out lane is open, but in that case, why would they have the single-item lane as the only one open? maybe if the others were all malfunctioning, or something).

If they don't want to preclude self-check-out for those who can't pass the test, perhaps have both "qualified" (you have to have a card to use these) and "non-qualified" (anyone can use these) lanes. Also, they could have "self-check-out express lanes" where a max number of items (e.g., 10) can be scanned (once the number is met, no more items can be scanned). This would require the self-check-out eligibility card in order to prevent people from processing multiple, back-to-back transactions without leaving the self-check-out register.

These steps would help to ensure a quick self-check-out process and an even quicker check-out for people with a single item. It would also make a lot of Wal-Mart consumers happier, I think. In general, Wal-Mart should improve their check-out times... it's no fun to wait 30 minutes or more to reach the check-out cashier. Especially when you have one item to purchase. On more than one occasion I've simply decided not to get something when reaching the front counter there (ok, I rarely shop at Wal-Mart anymore; I generally prefer Target these days, although their check-out lines are starting to show signs of Wal-Martiness... not terribly bad, but heading in the wrong direction). And, interestingly, I recently found better deals on Energizer and Duracell rechargeable batteries and Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (I can see Amateurink's cringing at this thought) for better prices than either Wal-Mart or Target at the local Publix Grocer, which is actually closer than either of the other two "discount" marts.

Sorry for the ill-natured post... just venting a bit, I think. I did just finish watching "Enchanted," a very cute movie, which has helped my bad mood from shopping (and why am I letting that get me in a bad mood, anyway?).


Christy said...

"I've been dreaming of a true self-checkout line". Sorry, I got your Wal-Mart/Enchanted stories mixed up. ;)

Ninfa said...

lol that was good! Thumbs up Christy.