DIY checkouts

Safeway and Coles are going to put self-serve checkouts into their supermarkets, starting with newly refurbished locations.

I’ve used these for a couple of years at Big W at Southland and QV. You scan each item, then put it in a bag in a tray of the checkout, and it appears to weigh the items to make sure what you’re putting in the bag matches what you’ve scanned. Then you pay using the usual methods, with a staff member having to come over if a credit card signature needs to be sighted.

You also need to pay attention and ask for help if the item you’re buying has a physical security tag on it. I once made it all the way home with a tag on some clothing (I don’t remember if it made the alarms go off — I guess not), and had to take it back in to get it removed. Magnetic (or they might be RFID) tags get automagically disarmed.

There are about 8 auto checkouts, usually with 1-2 staff on duty, so I suppose it saves the company money overall.

I wouldn’t assume the weighing is foolproof, but I suppose with staff (and presumably cameras) there’s a disincentive to try and trick the machine to make off with more than you paid for.

It works quite well for Big W, especially when you’re only buying a few items and the queues-served-by-humans are long. Dunno about supermarkets though — if you’re doing the week’s Big Shop, having a professional weigh and scan and pack all your items would have to be faster, wouldn’t it?

I wonder what happens if an item won’t scan? Do you get to reach for the PA and yell “Price check!”?

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

19 replies on “DIY checkouts”

I don’t like this, it makes me feel less like a person and more like a number. I’ll be going to these supermarkets much less frequently than normal. I shop at Ritchies specifically because they make me feel human.

Yes, having a professional weigh and scan your stuff would be faster, but having an uninterested slob do it is fairly slow. I notice that whenever I go to the nearest Coles (slobs) instead of my local IGA (friendly and helpful, and fast).

Why don’t they use the PIN on your credit card (the way Mobil petrol pumps do) instead of signatures?

Tesco in the UK has been doing this for a while. It is not bad, but does have some problems. For example, you need to place the items on the scales until you are finished (or it prompts you to start using a new bag) – so if you are using, for example, your own backpack, it can be awkward.

All in all though, it is a good thing, and if you are just grabbing one or two items, it can be much quicker. Unfortunately, if the person in front of you is technologically challenged, it can slow things down!

And to follow up on Philip’s comment about using a pin with your credit card, Europe has been using the “chip and pin” thing for a while now – much quicker and easier than a signature (and supposedly more secure).

Mind you, UK taxis pretty much only take cash, so they are not advanced in all things!

My experience in the UK has been the same as Grant’s.

Generally quicker for few items. And I don’t think they verify the signature, you just sign on a screen, presumably as a legal requirement. Although now theyhave chip and pin on the credit cards, as Philip suggested.

Also, when buying fresh food without a barcode, it can be slow to hunt through menus to find the particular type of onion you bought. That’s where the trained people can be faster.

They also tend to get the weighing wrong sometimes. Then the machine beeps at you and it’s a bit embarassing.

Having said all that, you soon get to know the quirks and i tcan be quite fast.

Pfft. I’ll stick to the small independent shops that make me feel like a person rather than the big strangle-hold giants hell-bent on squeezing another drop of blood out of a stone.

Dunno why they don’t use credit card PINs. I tried that at Safeway recently and they still wanted a signature.

Come to think of it, this goes against the trend of reducing bags, eg if you bring your own bag or want to use one that already has stuff in it.

We’ve been using this for a while now at our big grocery store “Loblaws”. It’s good for a few items, totally sucks for large orders as you say Daniel. What I do, is I signal the lady when I’m starting that yes, I’ll be using my own bags. I place them on the scale and she subtracts the weight of them. Then I proceed. But yes, at times things don’t scan, and you need help. Or, for some reason it beeps at you and says “please place item in bag”. Um, I *HAVE* you idiot machine! The lady working the desk/monitor has 8 checkouts to pay attention to. From a few conversations I’ve had with a few of the ladies they generally hate the system haha. Give me the old scan and bag for my customer thanks very much is their attitude. :) But, I guess automation is what we are heading for, more and more.

Please, as a plea for an Earth Day message, take your own bags to the store (not you Daniel since I know you do that!) :)

In the US you sign on an electronic pad for a credit card, no need to call someone over. You can also feed bills(notes) and coins into the machine. To use your PIN you simply select “debit” instead of “credit”.
I have not seen this yet in Melbourne and it is not widespread in the US yet either.
I too generally prefer a real live cashier to the machine. It is possible to shop now without any customer service whatsoever.

I have used these in the UK, I hate them but sometimes for just a couple of items it can be quicker.

Embarrassingly, the other day it declined my card, and said so IN A VERY LOUD VOICE! which was awkward, luckily i had cash.

I think for anything more than 10 items though, I’d rather have a professional scan my stuff, for two reasons

1. they will be faster

2. anything they make a mistake on is their problem

remember, if you scan your own stuff and out something in your bag which has scanned wrong or not been picked up, you did it, so you are the guilty party, not the cashier.

I also don’t like the big delay when someone needs to assist you, like for instance when you have alchohol in your shop, and they have to verify you look old enough. I’ve had long waits before the muppet watching 8 tills has noticed, and you can’t scan anything else while you wait.

1-2 staff per supermarket at the checkout? Sounds very Australian and is a pain in the backside I can tell you! Whenever shopping the words Idiotic and Bureaucratic come to mind but then my logic circuits start to malfunction when I come to grips with the fact that if they put more staff on they’d get more customers.

Yeah, I saw this at the Big W in QV in Melbourne a couple of years ago. I thought it would be a good way to ‘fool the system’ but I’m sure the disincentives are there. Plus burly security guards.

I guess it’s akin to ‘check yourself out’ libraries – Deakin uni has had that system for a logn while.

Here in Japan they have not taken onboard this technology (in fact, very few ATMs are open 24 hours a day – think Australia in the mid 1980s!). But if we had this, we would miss the little bows we get from out checkout chicks when we pay for our goods – yes, they actually bow to the customers – beat that Coles and Safeway!!!

If we ever do get the system, it’ll be accompanied by a high pitched female voice (favored for all consumer relations in Japan) coming out of a speaker, along with a big-eyed animated female bowing on the screen. We have that on some ATM screens when we take out our cash.

Safeway in Camberwell has been trialling this for a while now. My experience was that it was quicker for a few small things such as Orange Juice, Milk and Tim Tams, provided you don’t have to queue. Though as soon as you get even a few fruit and veggies, it’s probably easier to go to through a normal checkout. It’s not just that the trained professionals are quicker (which they no doubt are), though they don’t have to search through a list on the computer screen. They just have that massive wheel of codes which they scan through quickly.

In future they’ll probably use more RFID tags to deter theft, since they identify individual items.

I use them fairly regularly (also Loblaws). Generally, my weekly groceries fill 3 reusable grocery bags, so the self-checkout works for me. I find for me it feels faster than waiting in line at a manned checkout, most times. Produce items in my Loblawses all have a number code on a sticker on them, so it saves hunting through menus – simply click produce and enter the code on the touch screen(and either quantity purchased or weight, depending on the produce). The bagging works by having weight sensitive pads with plastic bags preloaded on hooks above them, onto which you can also place your own bags, if you like. Each item is scanned and bagged one at a time, exactly the way the cashiers do it.

When I’m feeling lazy, though, I’ll go to the staffed checkout stand and let a cashier do all the work.

i’ve been using the BIG W ones for a few years, they are usually good for buying a few small things, and are quicker than the so called “express” lane.

To my surprise my local Safeway store which is currently under refurbishment got new checkouts about 2 two weeks ago. I agree they should be good for buying 1 or 2 things like bread or milk. There are still four manned (chicked?) express checkouts, but a smaller number of regular ones. One upside is that the service desk and cigarette stand moved completely away from the checkouts to near the liquor store, which is good as the express lane staff won’t have to sell cigarette’s as well.

What happens if an item scans incorrectly?

Do you get to give it to yourself free? (as per the supermarket scanning policy)

With rumors of as many as 1 in 8 items being incorrect (even by 1 cent) it might be a smart way for safeway and coles to distract customers form noticing …. and they can even claim “well if you didn’t notice and you were the one scanning it, how do you expect us to notice?” when A Currant Affair turns up to grill them.

I’m sure there’s a bigger con for the consumer in this than it appears.


I used the one at Big W in the QV complex. You have to be really, really on the ball with the prices. I found an item that was meant to be on sale, but it showed up at the self-service checkout as double the price.

There were people queuing up behind me getting antsy, so I just ended up completing the transaction and paying extra, and then went over to the service counter to get a refund of the outstanding money.
It was like getting blood out of a stone. First of all I was ignored. Then when someone finally deigned to notice me, they didn’t believe me, and I had to take the person to where I bought it from so I could show them the advertised price.

They then couldn’t find the advertised price. When they’d finally found it, they scanned my item and agreed it was wrong. They then made me fill out my name and address and everything as if it was a refund, when it was just me getting my money back due to their stuff-up. Not fun at all.

As an ex-check out chick, I’m excited to use these, it reminds me of my good old student days. Safeway at Southland has them already and for me, it’s as quick if not quicker than going to a normal checkout. They are never people waiting, and the slower elderly are scared of them, so normally it’s the younger more technically savvy people there.

I’ve used them in the US while travelling and always thought they were a great idea, so I’m glad to see we’re finally getting them.

An upside is that they can fit in 4 checkouts where 2 were before, so hopefully when we’re just getting milk or bread, we wont have to line up for 10minutes to pay!

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