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The self-checkout and a shame-free shopping experience

Self-checkout lane

Last week I had a mad craving for cookies. After fighting it for hours, I decided to just give in instead of obsessing about it. So I drove to the grocery store at ten o’clock at night, grabbed a box of Lofthouse cookies (with pink icing and sprinkles) and headed to the self-checkout lane. This is when it occurred to me that although the self-checkout lane has saved me hours of time I would have spent in longer, slower-moving lines, it’s also been bad for my waistline.

Before the self-checkout, a cashier had to scan all your items for you. I would always imagine the cashier was judging my purchases, silently snarking at my choices. It’s more likely that the cashier didn’t care how many bottles of soda I was purchasing, but was more fixated on the wall clock and how many more minutes were left in their shift. Still, the possibility that they were judging me always made me slightly uncomfortable.

The self-checkout machine does not care how many minutes there are left in its shift because it doesn’t have one. It does not have self-consciousness, let alone the ability to judge my purchases. The worst thing it does to me is refuse to scan the barcodes on my items even as I wave them twenty different ways over the damn scanner. (WHY WON’T YOU SCAN?! WHY?!) There is one cashier that oversees all four of the self-checkout machines, but I’m not sure if they can see my purchases, and even if they do I don’t have to look them in the eye or interact with them in any way.

If I had to set my lone box of cookies down on the conveyor belt and interact with a cashier to resolve a late-night cookie craving, I might have stayed in my apartment and just waited it out. However, I knew I could skate through the pseudo-anonymous self-checkout lane, so I got the cookies without facing an awkward social situation. Essentially, the self-checkout machine has eliminated the element of accountability that used to exist, and as you probably know, accountability is key to weight loss and weight maintenance.

I suppose this is a bad thing, but I would never give up the convenience of the self-checkout lane. Perhaps they could insert a subroutine that would flash the message, “Do you really want to buy that?” whenever I scanned something particularly calorie-dense. I guess that would be bad for sales though, so I don’t see it happening unless a rogue programmer from a competing grocery chain hacks the machines.

On the flip side, the fact that I’ve been recognized by two blog readers since I moved here has made me a little bit paranoid that I’ll be spotted when I make such high-calorie purchases. I lived in Indianapolis for ten years, five and a half of which I spent blogging regularly, and I was only recognized once. That person didn’t say hello, either. They just emailed me later, which was WAY MORE CREEPY than if they’d just introduced themselves. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for less than six months and I’ve already been made twice. I don’t think that paranoia is any match for the anonymity of the self-checkout machine, though.

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Sarah • December 13, 2010 at 8:43 am

I remember those days. And before they came into existence (late nineties in Colorado) I would go to the grocery store in the middle of the night. I assumed they judged everyone who walked through the door.

But then I realized shame is something I am attaching to the cookies. Not them the scanner or the check-out girl.

I remember the last time I picked up but then left behind a package of Lofthouse cookies. I got tired of feeling shame… That inner struggle was obviously evident as I put them down and picked them up. Repeat. Leaving them behind that last time was one of the best things i have ever done for my self esteem. Shame has no place in my food choice.

That was years ago… And the kinds of cookies Lofthouse makes has proliferated since. Now they get purchased with conscious guilt free choice. All things at the grocery store do. I still prefer the self checkout for ease but not because I fear that people are going to judge. My life, my choices. As long as I am comfortable with him who cares what the rest of teh world thinks.

I am who I am, you are who you are.


Ms Pj Geek • December 13, 2010 at 9:17 am

Those Loft house cookies are crafted in Hell by the Devil himself.


Jen • December 13, 2010 at 10:36 am

I’m not a huge fan of the self-checkout. It always seems slower and 75% of the time, something goes wrong and I have to call the attendant over.

Maybe you can convince yourself that the attendant is watching you. Or the rent-a-cop by the door…


Holly the rental agent • December 13, 2010 at 11:07 am

I never really thought about the self check out that way. Moving to the south probably also doesn’t help your waist line. For example, I’ve been here 7 years and instead of planning on judging you, I was going to make a cookie recommendation (Trader Joe’s cookie stars! :http://www.traderjoesfan.com/Trader_Joes/dark_chocolate_shortbread_stars/details/). We put fried chicken on a biscuit, so…I’m usually not too worried about it.

Oh, also I hope your family is safe in Indy today. I hear some parts had some major snow!


Carbzilla • December 13, 2010 at 11:14 am

I’ve recently learned how insanely easy it is to make your own cookies. If you go that route, it slows the process down a bit but at least you have a sense of accomplishment that you MADE something. They’re also *slightly* more healthy, I suppose. I know the hardest part is that you can’t just put them on the office kitchen table up for grabs in your situation.

This is a hard time of year. Understandably cookie-grabbin’ time. :)


Thumper • December 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

If it helps, the person monitoring the self checkout lanes can see everything you’re buying on their terminal screen. So the judging continues… ;)


scone • December 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Not only can the supervisor see your purchases on the monitor, the system can record your purchases and compile a profile on you, particularly if you use a loyalty card. Ostensibly so they can give you “appropriate” coupons. Condom coupons, anyone?

Anyway. My issues with the self scan are, it kills jobs, invades your privacy, seduces you into spending more, and embarrasses you anyway. While forcing you to put up with high prices, bad music, worse decor, and dead-face florescent lighting. All the worst features of late stage capitalism, together at last.


psychsarah • December 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm

As I read this post, I thought about things people don’t like to buy due to embarrassment (e.g. condoms, hemerroid cream, men buying feminine hygiene products for their partners). I wonder if people purchasing these items use the self-checkout more often. Hmmm…


Jackie • December 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm

@Jen – I agree Jen. It always seems to take longer to use the self-checkout than to go through the regular checkout.


Jackie • December 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I remember one night when my husband had to go to the store on Halloween night. We were running out of candy so he had to get candy. But he also chose that night to get razor blades (the sharp ones) for his paint scraper as he was working on a project! I’m surprised the clerk didn’t call the police. It was only after he left the store that he realized it probably wasn’t a good combination to be buying.


Leigh Ann • December 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I’m usually seduced by the self checkout, because the lines are shorter. But it seems something always goes wrong–a bar code won’t scan or the machine keeps telling me there is an “unexpected item in the bagging area” when there is nothing there–so it ends up taking longer anyway.

I used to check groceries for a living, back in college (a job I liked, by the way, because I got to talk to people, I got paid well, and there was pretty much zero stress because once your shift was over, no worries, you didn’t take it home with you). But I can tell you very few checkers really notice, much less judge. what you buy. I only noticed the purchases of regular customers who were outstanding in eccentricity (one lady, for instance, always put every item–cereal, cans of peas, you name it–in a separate plastic produce bag, tied with a twist tie).

Carbzilla, interesting comment about making our own cookies. I read somewhere that it used to be that when a person wanted, say, ice cream or fried potatoes or an apple pie, someone in the family had to make it. This took effort, so they didn’t eat these foods every day, or even every week. Now we can have anything we want everyday if we want, and it’s bad for our waistlines. I always think if I were to eat only things I made myself I would be thin. Actually, I would probably starve.


RNegade • December 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm

@scone: Speaking of late stage capitalism, I have a friend (IQ probably over 200) who foresees the purchase-profiling system being used by insurance companies to deny/limit coverage for ailments supposedly brought on by over-indulgence. In any case, the whole scenario is already creepy. Dead face indeed!


Amanda • December 13, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Nail on the head! Also, self-checkout discourages me from buying produce, because it takes forever to punch in all the codes, or search for carrots by picture, and then choose the correct carrot (organic? baby? bulk?) while people are waiting impatiently behind me. In short, I think self-checkout is a conspiracy against healthy eating!


The Merry • December 13, 2010 at 7:01 pm

When I worked as a cashier, I paid attention to the bar code rather than the contents of the items. Though I still remember the one man who plopped a couple items in front of me to be rung up and defiantly said “don’t laugh!”
That’s when I noticed that he was buying a pregnancy test and a condom.


Sheryl • December 14, 2010 at 9:11 am

:-) Recently when we were about to have a snow storm, I went to CVS and bought only a bag of catfood and a bottle of wine! No self-check, unfortunately.


Helen • December 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Good insight on yourself. Now, what to do?


Emily • December 14, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I would assume that someone buying cookies at 10 at night just remembered that they were supposed to bring something for food day at work the next day. Because that is something I would do.


lin • December 14, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I agree with carbzilla. One of the changes I made to lose and keep off 30 lbs was to make my own desserts unless they were being given to me ( I don’t have the willpower t o turn down free food!). I give the rest away or freeze for later.


Dorothy • December 15, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Oh gosh I used the U-scan for the first time in a couple years last Saturday because severe weather was coming and I wanted to make chili. For some crazy reason even before I went to Kroger I was overcome with paranoia about appearing so stereotypical. Bad weather, make chili. There I was with every single thing to make chili plus a box of saltines. I did not have any sweets so that wasn’t the issue. I just feared the eye roll (literal or figurative) of the cashier. Thing is some of those cashiers have been at that store as long as I’ve lived in this neighborhood which is years. I think when it’s slow and they have time to look they do judge you. I probably would, too.


Jennifer • December 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm

A friend of mine had a college roommate who introduced her to some bad eating habits. She rues that roommate to this day, as she picked up habits she never would have considered and now struggles with stopping them.

I hope I never have to secretly rue you, Jennette. I don’t think I would have ever considered this benefit to the self-checkout. I don’t tend to use them, as I’m clumsy and find myself dropping items and taking twice as long to scan groceries as the experienced checker. But I can totally envision myself using them in a binge moment. Dang it!


Darlene • December 17, 2010 at 1:54 am

A very long time ago I read an article or heard at the news that the guilt for making a calorie-dense choice is more threatening than the choice itself. I don’t know if this information is true, but in terms of the feelings it generates, I bet is true. And then I think of treats, which are allowed from time to time…and we also have that time of the month when we crave for anything.


Cynthia • December 17, 2010 at 2:35 am

Wow, never thought of the self-checkout that way. For me, the self-checkout is just the MOST annoying thing ever. I tried it once and hated it. Most of what I buy is not bar-coded, i.e. veggies & fruits, so I had to try and guess what each was called in the store lexicon and I was wildly unsuccessful at it. Further the stupid screen was hard to read and identify the pictures. It took forever to get checked out far longer than just waiting for a checker. If they judge my foods, so what? An occasional bit o’ junk amongst all those veggies. I’d like to see them TRY to put a judgement on that, LOL!

Actually, when I was living in North Dakota, it was rather fun in a way, none of the checkers had apparently eaten any veggies in their natural form, ever, except potatoes, carrots or corn. So there I’d be, with my cart full of same, having fun watching them puzzle through it. I mean seriously, some of them had to ask “Is this an onion?” One guessed a zucchini might be a cucumber. Close, but no cigar.


Boilergrad93 • December 17, 2010 at 6:41 am

LOVE the self scan. Wish they had them everywhere.
Lofthouse cookie…I swear those sprinkles have crack in them, cause once I eat one it’s over!!


Kyle • December 18, 2010 at 12:30 am

It is incredibly creepy when people recognize you and don’t say hello and then just email you later. That has happened to me three times — with the same person each time.


Ri • December 18, 2010 at 2:41 am

I used to work as a cashier at a big grocery store in Western NY. Looking back I have to say that I don’t think I ever judged anyone for their purchases. However, I do remember the time someone bought lobster with food stamps for some reason.

I like the self checkout because it allows me to bag my own groceries and I’m better at it than most of the workers at our local markets. I’m such a grocery snob.

This does remind me of an awkward purchase though. Back when I was in college I was still working at the grocery store. I was big on sales and coupons at that time and came into 17 – yes seventeen coupons for playtex. They went on a sale and with the double coupons I got all 17 boxes of tampons for 10 cents each. No joke.

Of course buying them at the store I work in, from a guy I went to high school with who also worked there. Awkward. He laughed though when he saw the total and realized the savings.


Gingersnapper • December 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I remember one time, when I was considerably younger, standing in line at the grocery checkout at 10:30 p.m. with nothing but a bottle of wine and box of condoms and suddenly realizing “OH.”

So I quick grabbed a pack of gum and put it on the counter too. I’m sure that made it look much better.

Cookies are nothin’…


Judy • January 1, 2011 at 12:43 am

I REFUSE to use the self-check out because it cost someone there job. If one person is supervising 4 machines that is 3 people without a job.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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