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Major grocery chain gets rid of self-checkout

The technology that allows customers to check themselves out of supermarkets may be on the way out after Albertsons decides it's too impersonal. Other chains may follow suit.

There's no line, so you figure you'll try it. You put your shopping basket down, then you begin to scan the items. That part generally works fine. But then there's the bananas. How much do they weigh? How much are they per pound? Which button are you supposed to press?

No, you're not reading a hacked cell phone conversation between myself and my mother. I'm just describing the irritating technological phenomenon known as the self-checkout, an idea which, it seems, may have already had its glimpse of notoriety.

In a move that might stun those who believe that capitalism exists merely to ensure that the majority of workers end up unemployed, Albertsons, the very fine grocery chain, has reportedly decided that self-checkouts are just not so good for business. It is removing all the self-checkout lanes from its 217 stores.

The way The Seattle Times tells it, Albertsons felt that the machines took away from employee/customer interaction.

Sometimes, technology doesn't necessarily feel good. CC Pin Add/Flickr

Please pause to consider the depth of that one while I offer you the thought that, even though companies might offer many reasons, one just might be that people don't enjoy using the self-checkouts. In my own regular wanderings through Safeway, I see the self-checkout lanes routinely empty while the lanes manned by stressed human beings are full of customers.

In support of my entirely unscientific observation, my regular reading of Storefront Backtalk reveals to me that Kroger's, another fine chain, is also experimenting with removing self-checkout lanes from one of their Texas stores.

The simple truth is surely that self-checkout machines are a lot harder to operate than an iPhone and a lot less fun. Which doesn't mean that technology and retail are enduring a permanent falling out. The Seattle Times reports that Home Depot is trying out 30,000 First Phones, which allow its staff to check customers out anywhere in the store. (That last sentence might have a double meaning, but it is entirely unintentional.)

In retail, the customer experience isn't merely about speed. It's about something that makes you feel good (or at least doesn't make you feel bad) every time you do it.

One wonders whether, at the heart of Albertsons decision lies the truth that self-checkout is about as much fun as calling Comcast or Time Warner and getting one of those recorded voices that runs you through fifteen options in at least two languages. When all you want to do is talk to a human being.