When supermarkets in Edmonton started introducing self-checkout machines to their till areas last year, I was elated. More often than not, my complete purchase numbers less than 10 items, and I always found myself in for a lengthy wait, even in the so-called “express” lines. I know some people are against the idea of having to process their own groceries, but I find that it greatly decreases the time I spend in line, so a little extra effort is worth it to me. Having tried the machines at Save-on Foods, Superstore and Safeway, I can say that they are definitely not created equal.
Save-on Foods is, hands down, my favourite grocery chain. The stores are generally clean, they have a great selection of produce, and the prices are fairly reasonable (particularly if I am only there to pick up a few items). I remember being very impressed with their self-check outs when I first used them – the interface was easy to understand, vegetables were classified alphabetically by name, and an attendant was always standing by to help. Also, to encourage flow through the store on a discount Tuesday, they capped the maximum number of items at 15 for self-checkout users – a great idea. After a while though, I started to notice how particular their system was. For example, I like to use my own reusable grocery bag, and in order to do this, I must have the attendant swipe their pass to override the system. Also, the machines are very finicky about bagging the scanned item right away – they do not hesitate to remind the user of this before allowing another item to be scanned. Still, even with the minor inconveniences at the till, I find the entire shopping experience at Save-on to be the most enjoyable of the three, and that keeps me coming back.
Superstore, with their competitive prices across the board, is undoubtedly my choice when I am planning a larger-volume shopping trip. But the lines to their staffed tills, particularly late in the evenings and on weekends, stretch out into the aisles, and are always a deterrent to visiting the store. For that reason, the self-checkouts were a welcome sight. What I didn’t expect, however, was that so many of the machines would be down so much of the time. I have yet to encounter a situation where all of the machines are operational, or a time when the attendant is actually free to provide timely assistance (message to Galen Weston: get off the television and use that money to fix your self check-outs and have more staff available for troubleshooting). I also think a maximum item limit would help speed things up, as nothing is more disheartening than seeing a customer with 1001 items to check out, but no clue on how to use the machine. I will say that the Superstore machines are more forgiving than those at Save-on, as there is an option right at the start that allows users to tell the system that they will be using greenboxes or bags, and the machine automatically adjusts the weight allowance. In addition, the Superstore machines are definitely more patient, and provide the customer with more time to bag the item after scanning. And yet, in spite of these allowances, the aesthetics of Superstore and their lack of in-stock produce will keep me away for my day-to-day grocery needs.
Last but not least – Safeway. I will admit to having the least amount of experience with their machines, but they resemble, at least on the outset, the self-checkouts at Save-on. Safeway has programmed in a handy “most used codes” page for vegetables, which does save some time, but as I have only used their terminals a handful of times, I can’t pinpoint their nuances in the same way as I can for the other two stores.
Overall, while self-checkouts aren’t the reason why I visit a particular store, they have made my visits more seamless.
Have you been turned by the self-checkout revolution? Do you have your own terminal preferences?