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Open Features: Self-Service At The Supermarket

Wendy Ogbourne has plucked up the courage to combat the supermarket self-service checkout.

I’m feeling rather pleased with myself at the moment. I’ve finally plucked up the courage to try the new self-service checkout in Woollies (one of our major Australian supermarkets).

My daughter has been trying to persuade me to “have a go” for ages, but I’ve been resisting – not quite sure why, just an aversion to yet another familiar thing that’s changed in today’s world. I was always quite happy to be served by one of the young girls or boys, even if I did often have to tell them the name of a particular type of fruit or vegetable I was buying. I do believe many youngsters don’t know the difference between a capsicum and a cantaloupe, broccolini or brussles sprouts, having never eaten any of them. Anyway, that’s beside the point. In extreme frustration one day at the length of the queues at all the available checkouts, including the 10-items-or-less, I decided self-serve might just be the way to go.

I did have to put my glasses on, to make sure I could read the instructions on the screen, and it did take me quite a long time at my first attempt, even though I didn’t have a full trolley-load. I had to ask the helpfully hovering assistant for advice a couple of times, once to ask why I couldn’t find a mini-cabbage on the display screen (it turned out that she couldn’t find it either, so I got it free!), and then again when the machine couldn’t read a bar-code, which was mangled. She was remarkably patient with me, as I was obviously a first-time user, and in need of special understanding, being of the grey-haired brigade (I refuse to refer to myself as “elderly”).

The same couldn’t be said for a gentleman at the next machine to mine, who was determined not to understand the system, and repeatedly swore at the screen. “Stupid bloody thing,” he kept muttering. “I’ve never seen anything so ridiculous!” In the end, the poor employee was reduced to responding, “Well, you don’t have to use it, sir! You can queue up like everyone else if you prefer!”

As I completed my transaction, and left the store, I felt a flood of elation that I had succeeded. The secret was to give it one’s entire concentration, and not to get flustered. I could do it.

However, I did wonder later whether it was such a good idea. If the self-serve option became too popular, then the queues to use those checkouts would become as long as the others, and nothing would be gained. Unless I used them every time, I was sure I would forget the entire sequence by the next occasion, and put my bag on the wrong side, or forget to enter my store loyalty card, or inadvertently slip a banana into my bag before it had been weighed. The mental image of alarms ringing and store detectives rushing over to take me into custody did not appeal.

And then, what would happen if the entire checkout system became entirely self-serve? How would those youngsters earn their holiday pocket money then? I didn’t want to be the cause of mass unemployment of our young people. Computers have already taken over so many unskilled jobs. No, I decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

My daughter thinks I’m crazy. “Why do you have to agonise over everything so much?” she asks. “Just do it.”

But that’s the youth of today, isn’t it? The generation gap is alive and well.

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