I’m old. Back in the day, we had friendly humans entering our purchases into cash registers and had their assistants bagging our groceries. Decades later, supermarket employees scanned UPC bar codes. Mostly, there remained baggers to load our goods into sacks or boxes.
These days, though, stores have cut costs by encouraging shoppers to self-serve, to use an electronic device, a POS, a point of sale scanner, to get the job done by themselves. Many such enterprises have only a single checkout manned by humans. That lone checkout’s long lines do much to discourage us aging mortals—we’re forced to learn the new technology.
However, after COVID hit the world, store owners were dissatisfied with the lines that formed at self-service counters. Accordingly, they implemented the use of yet more “user-friendly” checkout gear; they introduced handheld Scan & Go instruments. Those apparati are complex in that they employ “smart data.”
More exactly, Scan & Go tools enable consumers to “build their shopping lists online, then travel around the store in the most efficient way, before paying within the application. Theoretically, a shopper using the app would never need to queue to pay at a self-checkout machine or interact with store staff.”1
The folks who designed those gadgets failed to take into account elders’ aversions to technology. For me, it’s sufficiently troubling that the weight of my cart has to match the weight shown on my computerized receipt. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid paying for any items as it is that, as a senior, I might forget to scan something in the flurry of getting lots of stuff into my trolly before I need to find a restroom or before Computer Cowboy has tired of my tendency to lollygag around produce. I like to carefully select my tomatoes and bananas!
Regardless, I’ve tried, lifelong, to be “an upright citizen;” I would feel mortified if I missed scanning something. On balance, a store that essentially insists that I use a point of sale scanner is hindering my shopping experience. I long for the return of manned checkouts and their associated lines. I’d pay more for my peppers and oranges if only those employees were retained.
POS scanners are far more benign, though, than Scan & Go systems. While the former can be a bother, especially to folks addled by age, the latter has similar disadvantages plus additional, unnecessary sensitivities. For instance, if a customer leaves long periods of time between item scans, then the system will realize this and alert security to check baggage. This is because it is probable that a customer is attempting to discreetly add items in-between scans.
Another example might be if a customer bought all the secondary items required for a certain meal but did not buy the traditionally more expensive protein item.2
It’s enough that my spouse doesn’t like me carefully vetting our onions and our cherries. I don’t want to be accused of crime because it takes me long minutes to seek the freshest lettuce or the best blueberries. Additionally, if I have proteins waiting in my home freezer, I don’t want store detectives shadowing me because I bought mushrooms and potatoes, but not chicken.
Interestingly and not surprisingly, the younger set has no qualms with such machines. To the greater per cent of men and women in my children’s generation, anything not driven by buttons is of small value.
Consider that, these days, home deliveries of food, clothing, medicine, and more require a smart phone. Likewise, physical banks have reduced their holdings of tacit cash since most of their clients now complete financial transactions online. Also, entertainment tickets, medical appointments, and so forth, currently, utilize computers, not person-to-person interactions.
Accordingly, my grown kids and their peers don’t shudder like I do when faced with POS or Scan & Go grocery systems. In fact, they laud those systems for enabling them to keep track of previous orders, compiling shopping lists for them, offering them coupons on purchased comestibles, and comparing prices among stores.
They provide the younger generation with apps, as well as integrated software, for almost every task related to buying food. While handheld devices can’t yet weigh produce or determine which carton of milk is the freshet, I’m sure those functions will be available in the not-too-distant future.
As for Yours Truly, increasingly, I’m shopping at green grocers for my fruits and veggies and am using online (!) ordering for my packaged goods. While the delivery services offered by every store that I’ve tried leave something to be desired per missing items, incorrectly charged items, and substitutions I never asked for, they save my husband and me time.
Those “bonus” minutes, in turn, get used when I, up close and personally, want to thump watermelons or inspect cabbages at places small enough to not yet dream of Scan & Go. As for the increasing appearance of QR codes for goods and services, that’s a tale for another day.