By Deane Barker on May 18, 2005

Has anyone else tried the self-checkout systems at Wal-Mart? These are systems where you scan items yourself, then put them in the bag. The system compares the weight of the item in the bag with what the system has on record. If the correct weight doesn’t go in the bag in the correct amount of time, the system flips out.

I have a love/hate relationship with them. I first tried to use them on a full load of groceries, and it was a nightmare. The machine called over a cashier for tech support seven times. It complained about everything. At one point, I scanned something, then had to replace the bag because it was full. The system took the huge weight variation of the full bag being removed as evidence that I was trying to rip them off…

I remember a K-Mart in town tried them, then had to pull them out. They had to devote a full-time cashier to watch over them, and I suppose so few people used them that it was worse than a one-to-one relationship between customers and employees. They were removed.

I’ve since come to understand that they’re good on small loads, when you just want to get out in a hurry. And they’re not good for lots of small items (trying to run baby food through them is like trying to herd cats).

I did a little searching, and I’m not the only one who has issues with them. Is this a good application of technology? Is this just a stopgap measure until RFID takes over, like we talked about here?



  1. I used the ones in the Clearwater Florida K-Mart and it worked great! However my local Wally World installed their version with the weight controller thing and it sucks. Like you I tried a full load of groceries. It is slower than me and I was not aware of the weight verification feature until my 5th try using it. They have a full time cashier watching over 4 machines as well as security. They should remove the weight verification and just rely on the cashier and/or security if they are that paranoid. It would not be that hard manipulate it anyway.

    I know RFID will be a great inovation and speed an otherwise sucky waste of time at your local warehouse store. But what about the cashier jobs. If we continue to eliminate low end, unskilled jobs with automation where will these people go to work and try to improve their skills? I’m NOT a liberal I wish Mc’d’s would replace 90% of their idiot staff. But if people are replaced they will reply on my hard earned tax dollars to support themselves if jobs are not available.

  2. I’ve used them at Wal-Mart without any problems. It seems they have one person covering four of them. Even if she gets called over occasionally it’s still cost effective for them to do it. Personally, if every store I shopped at used these I’d be ecstatic. No more “Would you like to save 10% by opening an account?” or “You qualify for a free subscription….”. The less I have to interact with somebody when I’m buying something, the better. Don’t even get me started on Best Buy wanting my phone number every time I buy a CD. (Which they don’t get.) Ridiculous.

  3. I’ve used Walmart’s system once — I avoid the place at all costs, but when I do go there it’s for one or two things that I really need, nobody else is open, and don’t want to pay convenience store prices — and it seemed to work well for a few items.

    I also used KMart’s system several times when they had it going, and the last time was a nightmare; the scanner wouldn’t read the item, I called the “helper” over to help. She said I was doing something wrong that it wasn’t working, then got pissed at the machine because she couldn’t get it to work either, then got pissed at me for telling her that it was obviously the machine and that we should just go to a different unit, then I got pissed when she wouldn’t, It wasn’t pretty. I think we were both glad it wasn’t busy.

  4. I used one a couple of years ago at a Wal-Mart in Raleigh, NC, and had exactly the same problem you did, Deane. Baby food is apparently the Achilles’ heel of these things. The thing couldn’t really accurately keep track of such a small weight. At 30 cents a jar, why do they bother?

    The idea of using weight to sort this out just plain doesn’t work. Why wouldn’t I just pocket a jar and not run it across the scanner at all, then put it in the bag after I take it off the scale?

    I think those things are one of the main reasons that Wal-Mart is pushing RFID so hard.

  5. I use the ones at Kroger all the time. The weight thing is a pain until you realize that’s how it works. Once you understand that, errors are drastically reduced. They should have a sign telling people that’s how it works.

  6. They have them at my local ralphs (a CA grocery store). I’ve never used one and refuse to.

    Call me old fashioned but I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s, where they empty your cart, scan it, bag it, and don’t charge you for it.

  7. The system A&P had in some stores is pretty nice – it uses a scanner arch to detect items after they’ve been scanned, then conveyors tehm to a dumping ground at the end of the ailse, a la a conventional checkout. Seems to work much better than the shoprite/Home depot style of self-checkout systems

  8. Just as annoying as the high school drop out it replaced. Stopped at home depot and this by the way is my first experience with the abomidable contraptions. Couldn’t get my fifty pound drum of rood cement to scan it. I’m a secuirty guard. I had my uniform on and carry a gun. After some cursing the high school drop out that monitors four of the infernal devices proceeds to talk to me like I’m an illterate wank. Did I mention I carry a gun for a living and get paid to be a thug? Well I didn’t go to jail.

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