Is Online Shopping Like Being in the Self Checkout Lane?

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I hate self-checkout lanes. First off, I feel like all this automation is really cost cutting methods on the behalf of big business trying to reduce costs by eliminating jobs. I refuse to use them even if it means my standing in a long line muttering to myself that there should be more cashiers available. It’s a matter of principal to me.

There’s a certain home improvement store (no names here but their brand does evoke images of Halloween) that is very aggressive in their campaign to force their customers to use their self-checkout lanes. This particular location rarely will have more than one cashier working regardless of how long the lines are. I suspect that it’s this particular store manager but I take no comfort in knowing that.

I go into that store reluctantly and always diligently fill out their online customer satisfaction survey and use the opportunity to express my dissatisfaction with their checkout process. I’ve been doing this for well over a year and while I don’t shop there very often, I suspect they really don’t care about this one-woman campaign to get some cashiers their jobs back.

Ecommerce Sites Need to Make It Easy to Buy

So, I got to thinking one day. When we make online purchases, aren’t we in fact standing in the self checkout line? We chose our items, put them in our carts and then we check ourselves out.

For the sake of this rant, I’m going to assume that if you’re selling something, you have a secure checkout process and your customers feel that they can trust you. Even small businesses can quickly and easily implement PayPal to handle their ecommerce needs.

Self-Checkout Lanes Don’t Answer Questions

What about your store/site itself? What if I’m “in line” at your “store” and I need a price check? Or have a question about your guarantee or return policy? Do you have a virtual sales associate in the form of online live help? Do you have a page of FAQs, contact information and an order form that I can print out and mail. (Yes, some people still are afraid to buy online.) Do you have an 800#? (Note: shameless self promoting link to Grasshopper, an 800# for $9.95 a month – a solution that I have personally and successfully used.)

What do you think? Do you use the self-checkout lanes in brick and mortar stores? Do you shop online? Do you know anyone who refuses to shop on the Internet? What are your best tips for having an online store?

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Author: Sherryl Perry

Welcome! If you're looking for help building an Internet presence that fits your needs and works for you, you're in the right place. I blog common sense articles about WordPress, social media and SEO. My goal is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs understand their core business. Together, we can develop and implement business strategies that make sense to you.

57 thoughts on “Is Online Shopping Like Being in the Self Checkout Lane?”

  1. I agree I can not stand those automated check out lines. I think the difference with online shopping and the automated check out lines is the privacy of no one seeing if you made a mistake. With a lot of online stores having live chat available you can ask a quick question, or an 800 number available in your face also helps. I shop online all the time, but my one prerequisite is I need to see a physical address on the site and an 800 number. I want to know your return policy. It also helps to have a link to the Better Business Bureau so I know your rating. When purchasing anything always look at the browser bar to see if it starts with https which means it is encrypted.

    1. Hi Rudee,
      I love online shopping too. Your observations reinforce what everyone needs to keep in mind when they’re designing an eCommerce site. Things like live chat, an 800 number, a physical address and a clear return policy are necessities. Having easy to understand shipping rates is important too. I hate dealing with those sites where you have to start the check out process before you know what the cost of shipping is. I’ve abandoned many an online shopping cart for that very reason.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to weigh in on this.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Time to Tweak Your Twitter StrategyMy Profile

  2. Thanks Sherryl for letting us know more about the Online Shopping issues. I leaned a lot new things what I didn’t know before. 🙂

  3. Great post! I feel the exact same way about self check lanes. And you make an interesting analogy to online shopping. Good tips for webmasters.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Linda. I hope my article helps someone. As someone who does a log of my shopping online, I think it’s important to have online help available. However, I don’t appreciate having someone start chatting with me if I haven’t initiated the conversation myself. I wonder if most people feel the same way about it.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..SEO Should Be A Habit Not A HeadacheMy Profile

      1. Oh, you mean the little pop-up chat invitations? I don’t mind those. I guess I just ignore them. I always feel comforted to know there is someone close by if I do have a problem. What I hate is not being able to find contact info or to find only phone numbers for contact info or only Knowledged-based help, which I find to be an oxymoron.
        Linda recently posted..The comment that has haunted meMy Profile

  4. The checkout process should be kept simple. Lengthy checkout process that involves number of page refreshes often distracts the customer, who will abandon the checkout in the middle of transaction.

  5. The E-Commerce sites are making huge profits and they ignore their duty to serve their customers. Although some websites have been providing automated helps but they doesn’t seem to be that efficient. The security of the data for the naive customers should be their concern.

  6. Hi Sherryl,

    Alas, I love self-checkout lanes when they work properly. Unequivocally, I’m in your camp about cashiers being replaced by technology that can’t answer questions, can’t (successfully) do a price check, etc. BUT, ideally self-checkout lines should make a cashier’s job easier, less stressful, and allow people who don’t mind the DIY route. Yet, for those of us who like self-checkout, somebody should be only a hand-wave away.

    Comparing self-checkout to online shopping is a clever way to raise some issues that shopkeepers, store owners, proprietors should be paying strict attention to. The bigger online stores (Amazon, NewEgg, Tiger Direct, have these things in place. But when the average offline business owner brings his wares to the WWW, these “departments” are the first ignored and the last implemented.

    They can hire you and me to fix these oversights! 🙂
    Vernessa Taylor recently posted..No Hardhats Allowed – Online Project Management For The Rest of UsMy Profile

    1. Thanks Vernessa. I was targeting this post to the smaller biz owner who needs to think of their online shop in the same way that the “big guys” like Amazon do. Consumers have certain expectations that need to be met.

      As for self-checkouts, they do cut jobs around here at least. There are visibly fewer sales associates available in many of the stores that I shop at. I find Home Depot to be the most blatantly offensive in this area. Lots of times, there will be a long line at the only checkout available and this particular store manager refuses to open more registers. Instead, he’ll assign an associate to stand at a self-checkout to assist.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..3 Steps to Protect Your WordPress Blog from HackersMy Profile

  7. Hi Sherryl, I have not tried shopping online yet. I’m so afraid it would not be delivered to my place for some reason. Can you give me some tips in shopping online to make sure they are delivered?

    1. Hi John,
      Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer you. Somehow, I missed your comment. As far as shopping online, I know at least one member of my family who I would never shop online using his computer because he does not keep his anti-virus and anti-spyware programs up to date. If you’re keeping your computer protected on a regular basis, you should be fine. If you’re using a wireless router, I’d make sure that it’s secured. All of these tips are good advice even if you’re not shopping. When you are on a site where you want to make a purchase, look for telltale tips that it’s secure. There should either be an “s” in the URL for secures socket – such as https:// in front of the web address and/or a security lock at the bottom of your screen. As for delivery, I don’t know what country you’re in. You can always check reviews of the site too to see if the seller has a good reputation. I hope this helps.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..3 Steps to Protect Your WordPress Blog from HackersMy Profile

      1. Thanks Sherryl.
        It sure can help me for I didn’t know all that stuffs.
        I just want to make sure not to get scammed, cause it’s scary.
        Thanks again for those helpful tips..

  8. I love shopping online too John! Even if I am going to a store to make my purchase (maybe I can’t wait for it to ship or I just want to handle it for some reason), I still research a lot of purchases online first.

  9. Most of the time I don’t use the self checkout because I prefer to use credit cards when shopping and that requires a cashier but whenever I use cash, I took advantage of those self checkout lane because it is faster, and I can’t restrict myself from buying impulsively! 😀

    1. Aybi, First, let me apologize for not responding to your comment. (That you left over a month ago! Geesh.) What stops your from buying impulsively in the self checkout lane? Don’t they have magazines, candy and junk in those lanes too?

  10. There are some negative points of Self Checkout Stores but i like them as you have the freedom to see, physically check every item you want and then select best brand or product for you. However I would prefer a physical store than an online store to buy things until an online store offer discount rates.

    1. Price is a huge motivator for buying online that’s for sure. Convenience is another motivator. Sometimes, the leveling factor in making the decision to shop online or going to the store is the cost of shipping. With the price of gas going steadily up, free shipping can often be the deciding factor for me.

  11. This is what I like about you Sherryl – you take a stand. Joblessness continues to be a problem in our economy and it’s sad to see people being replaced by machines. I agree online checkout should have a personal customer service element to it and online shopping carts should be easy to use too (unlike GoDaddy’s). I imagine both would improve online sales.

    1. It seems to be all about corporate greed lately. As for examples of difficult online shopping experiences, GoDaddy is the perfect example Catherine. It is so much more complicated than it needs to be. If I weren’t so used to their domain manager, I may be tempted to use another registrar. They turn me off by trying to upsell me so much.

  12. Hi Sherryl, I actually like self-checkout lanes especially if I have just a few items. It’s a concept that is just picking up in Italy and I think if you are here, you will appreciate them more 🙂 What I like is that if you have problems there is a staff there to help you with the process. I think that’s providing the necessary support for those who are uncomfortable with technology.

    1. I just hate seeing people lose their jobs to technology. The job market in the USA is tough enough without seeing people lose jobs to corporate greed. I truly believe that self checkouts are mainly cost saving measures. They’re really not for our convenience. The same thing has happened to bank tellers with the ATM. We self serve . . . and they eliminagte teller positions .

  13. Hi Sherryl – Really great questions to ask about e-commerce customer service. I’m sure that no one else has ever written like this on the subject before. I have never, ever thought about it that way!

    I, too, hate self-checkout at MOST stores. And at those stores, I like you will go out of my way to NOT use it even when I just have a few items.

    I’m trying to think of the stores where I do prefer self-checkout and why. Maybe it’s because I had a good experience with it at that store, and remember that experience every time. I’m not sure.

    What I am sure of is that e-commerce customer experience has to be good. I really like It’s extremely intuitive. Some sites that sell high-end goods have incredibly complicated check-out procedures. I hate them and always just wish they would sell with Amazon and make life easier.

    Way to go. I love this post!

    1. is definitely the “poster child” for e-commerce sites in my book. It is all about customer service that’s for sure. Thanks for commenting Tia.

    1. You’re welcome Allison. I only recommend products that I believe in and I used Grasshopper’s 800# for years. It really is an inexpensive solution for small business owners who want to appear bigger than they are. I received a lot of calls from potential customers who preferred using the phone over going to my website. When I had the opportunity to talk to them, I was able to direct them to my site.

  14. Sherryl, one of our bloggers wrote about this very topic a couple of weeks ago! I don’t use the self-checkout lanes unless I absolutely have to…not because I’d prefer to talk to a real person but because they always seem to malfunction when I use them. I always bring my own bags, so that little weight-sensitive area gets confused and stops the checkout process every 10 seconds. It makes me crazy! I’d much rather wait in a longer line and have a real person scan my purchases. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s how I feel.

    You’re right: easily obtainable FAQ pages, online help, and contact information are crucial for online stores! I think that confirmation screens are helpful, too; Amazon prompts customers with a “Confirm Your Order” screen before they hit the BUY button, and I love that. It gives me the chance to go back and correct mistakes before I make a purchase!

  15. I agree that it is very frustrating being forced into self checkout lanes by associates that work in the store. It seems that people have gotten really good at abandoning carts, so it is important to alleviate their concerns within the cart.

    I love when companies do this well. A question pops into my mind while moving through the cart and within one or two glances, I have found their answer to my question right there on the page. This is smart and it comes from designers, marketers, developers AND customer service working together to know what is needed to improve the shopping experience.

    Great post, Sherryl!

    1. Hi Nate,
      Thanks for commenting! I have to apologize for not replying sooner. I really do appreciate comments and always try to promptly acknowledge them but I went to FL with my husband and tried to keep up with my blog long distance but just didn’t do a good job at it.

      Your example of online shopping experiences that are done well is a great point. It has to be a good shopping experience. There’s so much competition these days, it doesn’t take much for your website visitor to hit that back button and leave your site completely.

  16. Samantha, I only wish we didn’t have the self check out lanes! I occasionally will use one only because I don’t want to stand in line for 15 minutes but always end up with something going wrong and waiting for the attendent to fix it. I don’t think I will ever get used to them, they remind me of the “auto prompts” when I call customer “no” service departments.

    1. Billye,
      I’m so sorry I didn’t answer your comment earlier. You posted the day before we left for vacation and I somehow missed your comment.

      15 minutes standing in line is unbelievably frustrating but running into trouble with the self-checkout is no picnic either. And auto-prompts! That could be fodder for another post. 🙂

  17. Luckily enough, self-checkout lanes don’t exist in Huancayo. =) I’m on your side about keeping cashiers, not only for better and more thorough service, but also to stay connected with the world. I think it’s too easy to fall into an isolated lifestyle, especially for freelancers, so any excuse to interact with others is positive. In fact, I like that I’m forced to walk to the bank and the government hydro office here, instead of using online or phone services. =)

    1. I am the same way about wanting to interact with people. Sometimes, going to the grocery store is a social experience for me.

      Samantha, I have to admit that I had no idea where Huancayo is and had to Google it. I forgot that you blog about Peru. 🙂

  18. I definitely like online shopping and prefer not having to call customer service for help. They are robotic and usually don’t help much. In brick and mortar stores, I avoid self check out. The machines scold me if I bag my groceries too fast. Heavens! Isn’t life already full of difficult people and now machines too?! I like interacting with people as long as I’m not in too much of a rush.
    I don’t offer automated checkout for my services. I like the personal touch of communicating with clients and asking/ answering questions.
    Nice post!

    1. You made me laugh describing checking out too much for a difficult machine! 🙂

      I hate calling customer service for help when I’m buying online. JC Penney is one of my favorite stores to shop online and I once could not find enough information online to make the purchase. I called and they couldn’t answer it either. Turns out, they were accessing the same screen I was. She offered to call the manufacturer to get the information. Helpful but I was in a rush. At least it shows that they cared enough to try.

      1. Yes! I’ve had that happen too. Once when I called Delta Airlines I realized the rep and I were lookint at the same screen. Then he actually told me to go online for my needs.

        Your post just drives home the point of adding the “human touch”. I think that people do take notice and respond favorably to it. And… couldn’t that just seal a deal!

  19. Like some of the other commentators I don’t mind self check out since I don’t need to wait that long.

    For online shopping though there isn’t anything as tedious as when companies, like GoDaddy, try to sell you one million more things and in ways designed to confuse you into believing you really have to buy those items as well. It gives a severely bad impression when companies try that kind of trickery. Someone setting up an e-shop should really avoid doing so. They may gain a few dimes short term but long term they lose not only money but customers.

    1. Catarina, GoDaddy is an excellent example of a company that has an annoying checkout process. I’m not sure if they’re the company or not but one company I shop online with is always trying to save my credit card information. I’m always so careful to click that off. It really should be off by default as far as I’m concerned.

  20. I use self-check out lines all the time. It started with my kids who like to scan and bag their items. Then, I realized it is usually quicker. At some stores they will bag your groceries for you. One supermarket chain Stop & Shop now has scanners you use to scan everything as you buy it. You put it in your bags as you shop. You zap a sign at the end and pay. My 7 year old was insistent that we use the scanner to buy two items yesterday. We now buy more at Stop & Shop just because of the scanner. It changed our behavior and made Stop & Shop happy. As a bonus we get extra store discounts when using the scanner.

    Rob Berman recently posted..Marketing Plans- Plan the Plan and Work the PlanMy Profile

    1. Our Stop & Shop hasn’t implemented that technology yet. So, I’m not sure how I stand with that. I think I’d like it especially if I was busy but I still would only do it if the store was really busy and had plenty of cashiers. I feel really strongly about trying to keep people employed.

  21. You’re going to hate me, but I use the self-check out lanes when needed. I just hate waiting and I guess I’m a little cynical because I feel filling out those satisfaction surveys are a waste of time only because they don’t care. I have a friend who has worked for that company for 12 years. If you heard the stories he’s told me you’d know why I’m a bit cynical. But as for the online experience, I only shop where I feel secure and know that at any moment I can have a questioned answered simply by visiting the FAQs page. Without it, I don’t shop.
    Dennis Salvatier recently posted..Winner of the Dribbble Invite Giveaway!My Profile

    1. Some companies really do care about customer surveys but I agree with you about this company. It’s not a total waste of time though because at least I’m entered into their sweepstakes with every complaint. 🙂

  22. Hi Sherryl,

    I don’t like self-help check out lines because I am lazy and want “them” to do the work for me LOL. It most definitely takes away the “human” aspect but that is a trend I am seeing everywhere lately. Everything is becoming automated, it is close to impossible to get a living and breathing person on the other end of a telephone, etc. Funny as I have been encouraged to set up an online store-front and just started – but on a small scale on FB. This particular site was for a specific niche so it wasn’t too much of a problem. However, my services are so highly customizable and therefore, very difficult to put in one little online one-size-fits all box. There is definitely something important that is lost in the process – customer service for self check out lines and customization-options for online storefronts.
    Julie Weishaar recently posted..Online and Offline Networking EtiquetteMy Profile

    1. I have no problem dealing with online self-checkout but I work alone all day. So when I go shopping, I do want a real person to chat with.

      I hear what you’re saying about customizable services and being able to package them. That’s definitely a challenge. Good for you for setting up an on-line store front. Since your websites are professional looking to begin with, you already have an advantage towards building trust.

      1. I hear you about working alone – we have had that discussion before right? Our pets – no matter how much we love them, just don’t fit the bill when it comes to conversation and/or brainstorming. You could chat with the person behind you in line you know 🙂

        Thank you Sherryl for that compliment about my websites. I need to add that much of the new design is due to YOUR extremely constructive suggestions offered freely to me – I am most appreciative. Still have more to do……….. but it is a start.

  23. Hi Sherryl,

    Okay, don’t get angry but I love self check out. It is only in supermarkets I think at the moment. The supermarket I go to has them as well as the fast checkout and the normal ones. What I like is that I don’t have to wait in lines and I should point out is that there is a person in the area on hand to answer any questions and fix any problems people have. I know what you mean about jobs but on the other side if customers like them well they need to have them as an option.

    The only thing I miss is not being able to read the trash magazines and food magazines I used to read while waiting.

    I do agree with you about online live help and that is one reason I went with Blue Host. At the very least there does need to be a FAQs with detail about how to fix an issue as well as all the other things.

    When I sold software online we made sure all guarantees, refunds and FAQs where very visible as well as contact numbers and email. The one tip I would have is to make your check out is secure and you have a certificate.

    Much longer comment than usual I know.
    Susan Oakes recently posted..Customer Perceptions- Do You Love Them or Hate ThemMy Profile

    1. I love the longer comment Susan! I got a kick out of your not being able to read the trash and food magazines. 🙂

      I’m not completely against self checkouts but I don’t believe that they should grossly outnumber the manned stations.

      Good point about the security certificate. I don’t know about you but the site needs to be professional looking too. If I’m trying to buy from a website and it has that spammy feeling, I’d rather pay a little more and buy from someone else.

  24. Sherryl – you must be referring to Home Depot. I was just there a day ago and, as you point out, they have those darn self-checkout lines. Funny thing is, that there were sales clerks just standing around and every time someone went to the self-service line one of them came and took over the transaction. In NYC, where I live, the transit system is gradually eliminating live people at the fare windows. They are mainly closed now and you must use a machine to buy or refill your metro card. We live in a self-service world now.

    1. That happened to me once Jeannette. We were standing in the only line with a cashier and another sales clerk walked us over to the self checkout. We thought he was going to scan it. Wouldn’t you know, he started our transaction, walked away and we had an item that wouldn’t scan. I watched as the people in the line we left completed their transactions while we waited for help. You can just imagine my comments on that survey.

  25. Sherryl, aloha. Your post made me smile because I am with you 100% on the self check out lines in the brick and mortar stores. Like you, I don’t use them either though I must admit I rarely take the time to fill out the survey cards.

    If I go to a B&M store, I usually am buying more than 1 item so I really don’t want to use that option. Since we all know the glitches that can occur with an incorrect price or something not scanning, I won’t even go there.

    Most check outs, in fact, all check outs that I have experienced at online stores are better than self check out. (Even though I don’t use self check out, I do observe people while I am standing in line.)

    Yes, I still know people who will not shop online because of the credit card issue. Interestingly enough, these are the same people who order from catalogs using their credit cards over the phone. Though on more than one occasion I have attempted to explain about such info being captured vs. online safety, they were not ready to hear the message.

    Sherryl, I promise next time I go to a store with self check out lines, I will think of you and complete the card. No its a 2 woman campaign. Aloha. Janet

    1. The only time my 82 year old mother-in-law ever had her credit card info stolen was when she used it checking into a hotel. Since it’s difficult for her to get around, I convinced her years ago to shop online and she loves it!

      Thanks for joining my campaign Janet. 🙂

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