Jul 3, 2008


The fully automated self-service supermarket has arrived! This remarkable new technology requires shoppers to scan the bar code on each item, before placing it onto an electronic surface, which then transports the item at high speed through strips of rubber curtain down a very long conveyor belt. Payment is made by PIN card at the beginning of the conveyor belt, in an adapted machine that also delivers a bar coded receipt. You are then free to hurry after your purchases and bag everything up in the five seconds before the next customer’s items start arriving and getting mixed up with your own! Once you are done, you can let yourself – sweating and panting - out of the area, by holding your receipt up to yet another scanner next to an electronic gate.

Long before that stage though, your blood pressure has reached danger level, because once you have scanned an item and it has gone through the rubber curtain, you can only see it if you stop what you are doing and peer around a large metal hood. The same goes for the customer facing you, on the other side of ‘your’ scanner. Both yours and their items are separated on the communal conveyor belt by a ten centimeter high divider and it is just not high enough! By the time all the items have piled up at the end of the conveyor belt, they are spilling over into each other’s side.

You and your ‘opponent’ inevitably end up in a feverish race to finish and get to the end of the conveyor belt first - but if you fumble an item, a beeper and flashing light goes off on the scanner, which means having to wait for an assistant to come and fiddle about with a key and reset it! Grrr… This only happens to you of course, never the other person (!) which means that they are out of sight and bagging their groceries before you are finished - leaving you frantically hoping they don’t pack up any of your stuff along with their own!

This happened to me only once. A packet of teabags I had scanned and paid for was gone from the end of the conveyor belt when I got there and nobody pinches my tea! I complained to the manager and I probably wasn’t the only one, because since then there have been two frazzled assistants on duty at the end of five double conveyor belts, rushing frantically backwards and forwards trying to separate and stack each customer’s purchases as they arrive.

Of course with two stackers replacing ten cashiers the supermarket is making a saving, which might help keep prices down a bit. So why am I secretly glad that the three other supermarkets in the area are still using ‘old fashioned’ cash registers? Well, shuffling along in a queue is much better for the old blood pressure and I don’t get that awful knot in the pit of my stomach. There is also the chance of a bit of conversation with other customers, whereas the only person who ever talks to me in the self-service supermarket is me (!) cursing under my breath from the moment I set foot in the place, till the moment I get to the electronic exit gate - and find I’ve packed my bar coded receipt at the bottom of the shopping bag!.... Howl!!


Anonymous said...

And those auto thingamies never smile!

Geri Atric said...

Indeed they don't - but I bet they're working on that. The newer ones will be grinning and telling us to 'have a nice day' before you know it! Groan...

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see that you rant too, Geri! :)

Geri Atric said...

Hi Declan - oh yes, absolutely! Got to give the old grey matter an airing now and then.