5 Rules for Using Grocery Store Self-Checkouts Smoothly and Efficiently

Self-checkout aisles are designed to make your grocery store experience more efficient, but only if they're used correctly.

Self-checkout lines are unquestionable crowd pleasers at the grocery store; shoppers rightly value the ability to scan their own items and quickly make it out of the building. But because self-checkouts are so closely associated with efficiency, any tie-ups and slowdowns in this area of the store feel especially frustrating.

In order to help you keep your self-checkout experience as smooth and speedy as possible, we asked a group of supermarket workers (both past and present) and avid shoppers to provide their five top tips. Here's what they shared.

Weighing Fresh Items At The Till
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1. Consider saving self-checkouts for smaller shopping trips.

The convenience of self-checkout applies most directly to shopping hauls that are on the small side, according to recipe developer Laura Ritterman of Recipe Fairy.

"Smaller amounts of groceries are best when using the self-checkouts, as it is faster than going through a cashier. Self-checkouts are very small, and many are weight sensitive. This means you will have to pile up bags of groceries on top of each other if you don't want [the machine] to give you issues that have to be fixed by a cashier," Ritterman explains.

Tom Angelini, the director of customer service at H-E-B Houston, agrees that self-checkout lines are best suited for lighter loads, and he specifically advises shoppers to "consider using a staffed checkstand if you have more than 10 items."

2. Avoid the self-checkout if you're buying items that need verification by an associate.

When a self-checkout line works as it should, there's no need for shop associates to ring out items. However, if a customer tries to use the self-checkout to purchase a product that needs verification from an associate, the entire process grinds to a standstill.

"If you are purchasing items that require age verification like alcohol or activation like gift cards, I would not recommend the self-checkout, because these items require authorization from store associates. This slows down the process entirely, not only for the shopper in question, but also for the people behind them [in line]," says shopping blogger Eril Eti of Shopfood.com.

3. Pay close attention to the payment methods accepted by the checkout machines.

While many supermarkets feature self-checkout machines that accept both cash payments and card payments, it's still all too common to roll your cart into a line only to discover that that particular machine can only handle one payment style (which happens to be the one you don't have).

Eric Phillips, the current CEO of Dripfina and a former shop manager, warns that "increasingly, self-checkouts are accepting card payments only and eschewing cash; this further digitization of the system only allows supermarkets to speed up and depersonalize the system further. It creates a nightmare for consumers who come with cash and only discover after they've toiled through the scanning process that they're unable to pay. Back to square one. Shoppers should be sure to double-check what payment types the self-checkout accepts before they begin scanning. Ideally, a staff member should be there to help you identify which machines take cash, but more often than not, you'll be on your own."

4. Keep heavier items in your cart.

When processing heavy items (like cases of soda and water) through the self-checkout, remember that there's no need to take these bulky products out of your shopping cart.

"Self-checkouts have a retractable scanner for a reason, [and it's so] you can scan large and heavy items without the need to remove these items [from the cart] and move them from one space to the other," says baker, blogger, and recipe developer Michelle Keldgord of BakingHow.

5. Take a photo of the produce code while you're in the produce section.

Fresh produce often presents a challenge for self-checkout shoppers; product codes frequently aren't marked on produce items, so you're forced to click through the photo arrays on the checkout screen, which proves time-consuming.

Luckily, shopping and lifestyle blogger Maria Juvakka of Chic Pursuit has a clever hack to share: "Take pictures of the produce code in the produce aisle." When you have the code, you can type it in at the self-checkout and immediately pull up the produce item, eliminating the need to scroll through the images.

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