Thursday, March 30, 2006

U Scan - You suck

It's an epidemic that is spreading like the bird flu at a pigeon-filled square in Europe. "IT" is the self-service checkout register. From grocery stores, they spread to department stores, then on to other retailers. At the Harris Teeter grocery chain, they call them U-Scans.

The other day I went to the Home Depot in Burlington to buy a plastic tarp. Big mistake!! First, I had to find the tarps. At Home Depot, the emloyees are trained to greet you when you get near them. Now they just need to train them to slow down long enough to answer a question. Anyway, I finally located the tarps. I picked one out of the meager selection and headed up front to pay for it. I realized that I was in trouble when I saw the self-service checkouts. Even worse, there were no regular registers open. I approached the dreaded self-service register and attempted to ring up my tarp. Naturally, the machine malfunctioned. This requires the overseer to come over and fix the machine. It would have been quicker if they had just rang it up for me. After paying for it, I strolled over to the customer service desk and inquired as to why there were no full service registers open. Apparently, they had not trained the clerk for this line of questioning. After an awkward moment of silence, I changed my request to the Corporate customer service phone number. I hit the Daily Double!! I had asked two questions that they were not prepared to answer. I told them not to bother, I would just look it up when I got home. I called later and explained that their market research showing that 52 year old guys want to ring up their own lumber was faulty. They were unimpressed. No problem for me. Hey Home Depot!! Heard of a place called Lowes?? How about 84 Lumber?? If I need a lot of lumber, I go to 84 anyway. They get it and load it for you.

I have complained to Harris Teeter several times about the U-Scans. As the machines seem to be proliferating, I can only assume that I am either the only person who hates them or the only person who complains. So I have started using other techniques. First, if I need something and know that only the U-Scan is open, I go to a different store. Second, self service sabotage. Now, the grocery stores aren't stupid, so they have one or two registers open to serve a couple of hundred shoppers. This forces anyone who wants to buy anything into the U-Scan lanes. If I have to use the U-Scan, I try to entertain myself by scanning items several times. I also like to put things in the bag area that haven't been scanned, enter imaginary numbers for produce codes, and other little things just to keep the overseer busy. Tuesday is Senior Citizen Day at Harris Teeter. So on that day, a screen comes up asking if you qualify for the Senior discount. I always press "Yes". One day the overseer asked to see my ID. I explained that I was operating that register and had already decided that my customer qualified for the discount. Not impressed, she removed the discount. I left the groceries on the register and went to another store.

Why do people tolerate Self-service registers? They don't give you a discount for doing their jobs. As I explained to a Harris Teeter manger one day, "The customers get their own groceries, ring them up, bag them, and carry them to their car. The vendors buy shelf space and then stock that space. Hell, all you are doing is turning on the lights and sweeping the floors." They don't train their managers to respond to statements like that.

How do we fight this disease? Don't use them. I had to go to the restaurant for a couple of hours early one Saturday morning. My wife had asked me to stop at the store on the way home and pick up a few items. So I waited until after 7:00 AM to go to the Harris Teeter because I knew that they didn't have a cashier until then. I picked up the items for my wife and a cart full of other items (Don't send a hungry, fat man to the grocery store). I headed up front to check out. When I arrived at the front, there were no registers open except the U-Scans. I asked about a cashier and was told that she wasn't scheduled until 8:00. I told the manager that when the cashier arrived, they could put my groceries back on the shelf. I told him that I wasn't going to ring up my own groceries. He took the cart and he and the U-Scan overseer rang them up and bagged them. Try this sometime, if they won't ring them up, go somewhere else. Pretty soon even the slow learners among them will get the idea.


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