Self scan checkouts – are they serving you or the supermarket?

I remember – as a child – self-service machines would dispense postage stamps, bubblegum or allow you to pay for a carpark ticket.  When it came to groceries the only self service was the honesty box to buy eggs or vegetables outside our local farm.

Today's self-service checkouts seem to assume anything but honesty from customers.  Beeping to call an assistant, questioning the goods in your bag or hurrying you to pay for your shopping and remove your purchases from the bagging area.  To  many people they look like expensive intimidating machines that occupy the space where once there was a friendly face at the 'less than 10 items' till.

So, why do so many people avoid self-service checkouts?

We could write pages on the pros and cons of the self-service checkouts, but the fact is they are here to stay in every supermarket.  Love or hate them, we hope the following information and usage tips will convince you to give self-service a go.  After all, they are there for everyone, not just the tech savvy few grabbing dinner on the way home from work.

Most people avoid them because they are not sure how they work or believe they are too much trouble.  Read on to find out more about how they work.

Finding your way around the self-service checkout till

Typical self scan checkout

On one side (normally the left) is an area where you can place your basket.

The far side  of the self-service till will have another larger space where you place your purchased items. This is called 'The Bagging Area' where carrier bags are normally available on metal prongs that are supposed to help hold the bag open as you place in your purchased items.

In the middle are the important bits of the machine:

  • A screen to give you instructions through each stage of your purchase
  • A black glass window to which you show the bar code on each item you buy
  • A metal plate for weighing loose items such as bananas or potatoes (not on all tills)
  • A Credit or Bank Card reader if you pay by card (sometimes this has a panel to sign your signature rather then keypad for PIN number)
  • Slot that dispenses your receipt
  • Coin and money slots for cash payment
  • A curved bowl to collect any change in coins you are due

Before you use a self-service till, there are a few things you need to know about how the machine works.

Keeping you honest

Every product you scan MUST be placed in the 'Bagging Area' BEFORE you move on to the next item.  This is because supermarkets know the weight of everything you are buying.  When you scan the barcode, they look up both the price and the weight.  The bagging area is really a large set of scales and makes sure that all the items placed in it weigh as much as the store expects it to be based on your purchases.

So, if you accidentally place an item you have not scanned with your other purchases – the till knows and announces 'there is an unexpected item in the bagging area'.

The shop will also put security tags on item such as expensive bottles of alcohol, electrical products and DVDs.  If you scan to pay for one of these items, the till will announce that you need assistance from a member of staff to remove the security tag.

The final thing you need to know is that the till is aware which items are not suitable for sale to children,  so purchases such as alcohol or sharp knifes will also require an assistant to verify you are old enough to buy them.

Top tips to help you quickly through the check-out

1. Keep all the security tagged, age sensitive items together.  Call over the  assistant and have them approve all the items in one go.

2. If you want to use your own bag, you need to place it in the bagging area so the store can weigh it and have an assistant approve  it is empty.

3. In some stores you need to weigh loose items such as apples in the store and get a barcode sticker.  Make sure you have done this before going to the till.

Other stores need you to look up and weigh the item at the till.  This is done by placing the items on the metal plate below the scanning window and then using the touch screen monitor to find the name of the item.  Pictures of the most common fruit and veg items people buy are displayed first, so be sure to look before you start to search by typing in the name of your item.

Once you find the name of the vegetable or fruit you are buying, press the select button and the till will weigh what is on the metal plate and calculate the cost.  You must now move it to the bagging area.

4. Do not try to bag up your goods as you scan them.  The till will start to complain if you take too long positioning your shopping in your bag.  Also, if you lift up a previous purchase to re-arrange your shopping the till will complain because the weight of goods has changed in the bagging area.

It is far easier to just pile up all your purchases in the bagging area, make payment and then take your time to bag up your shopping in your own time before you leave.

5. Make sure there is a barcode on all of your purchases, otherwise you will need to wait for assistance to look up the price.

6. Your 'Points' Store Card can be recorded at any time simply by scanning the barcode on your card in front of the scanning window.  This also applies to money off vouchers or special offers. However, often you must scan your store card first, before you can use the vouchers.

7. Pay attention to the screen to make sure the items you scan do show up on screen with the value and description you were expecting.  There will be a beep to confirm scanning worked.

If you are in a row of self-scan checkouts it can be easy to hear the 'beep' from the neighbouring till and  wrongly assume you scanned your next item.  You will then get a warning 'Unexpected item in bagging area' when you place the unscanned item with the other purchased goods.  This is resolved by removing the item and making sure it is correctly scanned.

Pay and Go

Once you have scanned all your items, you select the 'Finish and Pay' button on the screen.

If you pay with a debit card, you can select to have cash-back before making final payment.

Any multi-buy offers are not calculated until the final paying stage, so do not worry if they do not show as you scan in your purchases.

When paying by cash, use the coin and/or the notes slot in the central panel of the till.  Credit cards are either swiped on the side of the card reader or slid up into the bottom of the card reader (as you would at a manned till).

Your receipt and any vouchers will be dispensed from the receipt slot on the central panel.  Change is dispensed in the bowl at the front of the machine below the scanning window.

The one gripe with most self-scan tills is that you can not redeem your car parking if this is offered by the store.  However, just take your parking card and receipt to the customer service desk and they will redeem your parking.

We hope next time you shop you will give the self-scan till a try.  Let us know how you get on!

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