15 Compelling Reasons Shoppers Avoid the Self-Checkout Line

SAVING & SPENDING - BUDGETING & EXPENSES
From convenience to frustration, see why self-checkouts are falling out of favor.
Updated Jan. 31, 2024
Fact checked
buying food at grocery store

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Almost every grocer or superstore offers self-checkout lines, but do they offer the ease and convenience they promise? In many cases, self-checkouts can cause more time and trouble when all you want to do is save time.

Here’s why more shoppers are ditching the smart shopping hacks self-checkouts supposedly offer, but many times fail to deliver.

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Not enough bag space

wifesun/Adobe self-checkout point in supermarket

Self-checkouts started as a place for 10 items or fewer, but now everyone thinks they know how to be a savvy shopper by using them.

The area for placing your bags is usually pretty small, with space for just a couple of bags. Standard checkouts have plenty of room for all of your items, however.

Glitches slow you down

Satawat/Adobe self checkout counter at store

How many times have you used a self-checkout, and it’s glitched for seemingly no reason?

These machines seem finicky, and even the slightest error can stop your process. Usually, it’s something you haven’t done wrong, so you have to wait for an employee to help. 

This can actually make your experience take longer than you expect or than just going through the regular line. 

Requires more labor

lightpoet/Adobe beautiful woman holding scanner while using self checkout service at store

With self-checkouts, you’re doing all the work yourself. This is great for the store but you might not enjoy it. 

You have to scan each item and bag them, even though there are employees who get paid for this work and can help out in the regular lines.

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More cluttered

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe man at self-service checkout

Sometimes, self-checkout areas are cluttered from past customers, making it difficult to set your things down, especially if you don’t have a cart or basket.

And when you want to just make things quick, you often have to wait for employees to clear the area.

Conveyor belts with regular checkouts also make it easy to fit more of your things, even when you’re behind another customer.

Difficult to use

vladdeep/Adobe woman at self-service checkout in modern supermarket take cash receipt

While self-checkouts are supposed to be user-friendly, they may not always be.

For example, if you’re buying a lot of fruits and vegetables, you have to search for the exact name and weigh each item on the scanner before bagging.

And if you have coupons or want to split your payment between cash and card, that can be extra work — if you can even figure out how to do it.

Security is disruptive

Daria17/Adobe security guard in uniform

You may be trying to mind your own business during self-checkouts, but store security could have other ideas.

Depending on where you go, there could be a camera plastered with your face or someone coming by and watching you. If there’s an honest error with bagging, the security cameras will think you’ve done something wrong.

Long lines

EdNurg/Adobe woman scans barcode of lunch box

These days, it seems everyone is trying to go to self-checkouts.

This usually means just as long a wait as a regular checkout area. Scope out the checkout lines to see which is faster; it may surprise you.

Many don’t take cash

Syda Productions/Adobe woman hands with wallet

If you’re carrying cash for your grocery run, you might be out of luck at a self-checkout.

Many have signs that say they don’t accept cash, and some won’t give cash back. You’ll likely be better off using a regular checkout if you’ve got cash only.

Can’t buy certain products

Mediteraneo/Adobe couple with bank card

Any product that requires an ID, like alcohol and certain medicines, is difficult to get through a self-checkout. Some stores will actually tell you to go through a normal line if you have these items.

Other items, like stamps or cigarettes, are sold only through a cashier. Take your shopping list into consideration before trying the self-checkout.

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Some items are hard to scan

maroke/Adobe housewife shopping at self-checkout

Certain items can cause errors in scanning or need an employee to help.

If a product has a special clearance sticker or you have a coupon that needs entering, it can take up even more of your time to have these individually punched in.

Consider skipping the clearance section if you plan on doing self-checkout.

Have to lift heavy items

Sarah Rypma/Adobe Grocery cart with toliet paper and some food items  with other grocery items in background at a Costco in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Forget buying those bulk products or even a pack of water bottles at your local grocery store if there’s no hand-held scanner at the self-checkout.

These heavy items will require some assistance, so it’s probably best to go through a regular checkout to be safe.

Can be ageist

Robert Kneschke/Adobe customer paying at the supermarket cashier

Many older customers may not be accustomed to the self-checkout technology and practices. These areas also require heavy lifting and labor without the normal interactions of a traditional checkout.

This makes self-checkouts somewhat ageist against a target demographic just wanting to get their weekly groceries.

Less space for items

Robert Peak/Adobe woman scanning products

A self-checkout might seem like a good idea when you only have a few items. But those items better be small because the space they leave for your groceries is minimal.

And if you have a cart full of things, then you’re having to haul each product out individually.

Still need help from employees

Seventyfour/Adobe smiling black woman helping customers

Even the most minor glitches or errors during your checkout experience can often require an employee’s assistance.

If you have to wait for their help, why not just go through a regular checkout? These employees are clocked in and ready to work, so go through their line to save you both time.

Don’t save time

Drazen/Adobe woman using self-service checkout

If you like to get in and out during grocery shopping, a self-checkout should be easier, right? Unfortunately, these glitches and hassles can actually cost you more time.

And if you’re trying to make your membership worth it by using the self-checkout at Costco, for instance, you’ll likely have to visit customer service to get it resolved.

Bottom line

ViDi Studio/Adobe woman shopping at supermaket

A self-checkout has some advantages, but the technology still has a long way to go. Couponers, for instance, still need a cashier’s assistance to save money shopping.

For many shoppers, using a traditional checkout lane is more beneficial in saving time and energy, but for others, it can result in an even more stressful shopping experience.

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Author Details

Ariel Taranski Ariel Taranski is a writer for FinanceBuzz. She has worked as a content marketer for CPAs and financial advisors, and she enjoys being frugal and money-savvy in her day-to-day life. Ariel has also worked with clients such as The Knot, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Alpha Prime, and many more in her time as a freelance writer.

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