Cheating the machine

Alfred Thompson and I had had a bit of a back and forth about automated checkouts recently. He liked them; me, not so much.

We have two stores in town that have incorporated this – Sobeys and Walmart. They haven’t gone completely automated and so we typically will go to a cashier. Over the years, we’ve got to know them personally and I’d hate to see them lose their jobs.

The automated tellers always have a person there to help you and they can be pretty aggressive at times. Even to the point of doing the checkout for you to show you how easy it is. We always pass; it’s not that difficult but I will admit that I’m not even close to the professional cashier that knows where and how to pack the eggs and the fresh bread.

One of Alfred’s arguments was that there was a time when we’d get gas pumped by an attendent. (and they’d check oil and clean your windshields too) His argument is valid – do I want to return to that slower life? My counter to this, and I do remember their appearance at gas stations, was that there was a price cut that you got if you pumped your own. It’s 3-5 cents/litre and you can still see that at ONRoutes on the 401. But, the price of eggs is the same whether I check them out or a cashier checks them out. Not only is the price the same but the cashier does a far better job than I do. It’s kind of nice to have a complete dozen when you get home.

All of this resurfaced on Sunday when Alfred shared this story proving that I’m a total moron.

The Banana Trick and Other Acts of Self-Checkout Thievery

I may not agree with the moron comment but will confess perhaps to being naive. The thoughts of cheating as described in the article quite frankly never occurred to me. Other than being just an honest person to begin with, I’m aware that there are cameras everywhere and so if anyone was going to get caught, it would be me. Besides, there are still those theft sensors that you have to walk through to exit the store.

And, I seem to have bad luck too. Inevitably, there’s a perceived mistake that I didn’t put the object I just scanned into the bag and the helper has to come running to override the machine. I always have this nagging feeling that I’m guilty until proven innocent.

The bottom line is that I try to avoid them where possible but I’ll admit that given to pressure, I’ll use them. They’re not that difficult; it’s just that I know that ultimately people will lose jobs when, not if, this is implemented wholescale.

Except, I guess for the programmers that write the code to make all of this happen. Could there be a classroom exercise in this? Program the camera on a phone or laptop to read the UPC and then a device attached to the computer to determine whether the object goes into a bag. It’s an interesting and maybe relevant topic.

Somehow I doubt that those who will be losing their jobs will be re-educated as programmers but Computer Science teachers see future programmers every day. Can we add this to being future ready?

And finally, there’s an interesting assertion that is included in the post. On the heels of the CSTA Conference where I did have some discussion about ethics, this quote appears in the article.

“There is NO MORAL ISSUE with stealing from a store that forces you to use self checkout, period. THEY ARE CHARGING YOU TO WORK AT THEIR STORE.”

How’s that, and this entire article, for a lead in to ethics…

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: Follow me on Twitter: I'm bookmarking things at:

4 thoughts on “Cheating the machine

  1. This is so interesting to me, as I’m like Alfred and love the automated checkouts. But I am the opposite when it comes to gas. I always go Full Serve. I’ve never pumped my own gas, and confession time: I don’t even think that I know how. I hope that around here they don’t get rid of this gas pumping luxury. 🙂

    I will say though that I don’t want anyone to lose jobs here. I just like how the lines are usually shorter at the self-checkout. It’s the waiting in line that I don’t like. I wonder what others think.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, you big city girl! I’d have to make a trip out of town if I wanted to get someone to pump gas for me. Both of the local stations are self-serve.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Doug, Hi Aviva!

    I was into the local Canadian Tire a few days ago and was surprised to see that a good number of the checkout lanes were blocked off, and a new lane with perhaps three self checkout stations had been installed. I’m not into the Canadian Tire all that frequently, so I don’t know how new the self checkout stations are, but it did look like quite a few cashier positions had been removed.

    I’ve been used to seeing the self checkout stations at the Home Depot for quite some time, and when faced with standing in line behind an occupied cashier or getting right to things myself at an empty self checkout, I am happy to do the work myself. Granted, the quantity of things I purchase at Home Depot is far less then the quantity of things I purchased at a grocery store, so it’s normally a small job. I don’t know that I would be happy to do all that work with my cart of groceries. However, I will confess to being ticked of by the number of times I get chastised by the machine because it doesn’t think I have put my item in the bagging area. I have also learned that if I have purchased a number of loose items from the hardware aisle (fasteners, washers, replacement IKEA bolts, etc.) in the little bags that you write the bin numbers on, it’s better to go straight to the cashier, because you can’t do those on your own at the self checkout.

    This brings me to an experience I had a couple days back at a local grocery store. This grocery store doesn’t have self checkouts. As most folks do, I checked out the number of people standing in the various lines and chose the one with only one person between me and the cashier. I then proceeded to stand there, and stand there, and at least two more people joined the line behind me, and we all stood there while the cashier processed the person in front. I probably checked my shopping list on my phone and checked my email before realizing that I had been standing there for a considerable amount of time, and it dawned on me from watching the cashier that she must be new to the job.

    If you visualize in your mind the way that a cashier normally scans things and weighs things, there is a significant efficiency to what they do and how they do it. Each item takes perhaps two seconds to pass through the scanner/scale. The cashier normally knows a lot of the items and their related codes and doesn’t spend much time looking up the ones they haven’t memorized. However in this instance, each transaction was taking on the order of 8 to 10 seconds. I could see the cashier thinking as she worked through each step. I realized that this particular pass-through was going to take a lot longer than normal. Responding to need to feel like I could do something to help the process, I wandered to the front of the store and picked up one of those collapsible carrying bags and took it back and added it to my pile on the conveyor.

    When the cashier completed the person in front of me, there was a brief pause, and then she turned to me and her first words were, “Thank you for your patience.” That confirmed for me that she was new to the job. I tried to give her a supportive smile in return.

    I then proceeded to put to work the knowledge I have gained over the years from watching cashiers pack groceries as I set out to pack my own groceries. Again, if you think of how cashiers traditionally package your groceries, they have a developed experience that has them sorting items for you based on weight, crushability, the need to stay cold, the need to keep separate in case of leaks, etc. I found myself applying this observed experience, as it was clear to me that this was not yet a skill my cashier had had time to develop. It may be that she had developed the same level of skill of observing cashiers as I had, but clearly she had enough on her hands with the checkout process as the sorting was too much to consider at this point in her experience.

    So there is hope yet. Stores are still hiring new cashiers and not all are rushing to implement self checkout lines.

    As for folks taking advantage of the self checkouts, and trying to justify theft as their “payment” for doing the checkout process and saving the store money, that’s very troubling, and just plain wrong,


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