Here's The Best Time To Use The Self-Checkout Line At The Grocery Store

The self-checkout line can be a blessing or a curse. In the best-case scenario, it can make checking out a breeze that takes mere seconds, in the worst-case scenario, it's a haphazard mash-up of flashing warning lights, machines beeping at you, and disgruntled employees annoyed to have to unlock the same machine for the third time that transaction.

According to CNN, these supposedly labor-saving machines are no cakewalk for grocery stores either. For example, it's not worth using the self-checkout line for items that need age verification because you'll have to wait five minutes for a cashier to come and help you. The same is true for customers using coupons, having payment issues, needing to cancel an item, or who just accidentally breathed too close to the bagging area and are now getting the flashing red "unexplained item in bagging area" error.

All of those issues need to be attended to by a live cashier, despite the fact that the machines were intended to cut the need for live cashiers. They also need to be serviced, generally by higher-wage, specially trained IT professionals. Additionally, despite their error-happy ways, the machines are magnets for shrink loss, or customers walking out of the store with unpaid-for goods. According to University of Leicester professor Adrian Beck, who has studied retail loss, a store using 50% self-checkout systems would experience 77% higher losses. So when is a good time for customers to use them?

Making self-checkouts work for you

According to, in a 2013 survey, one in three respondents said they exited a store without completing their purchase due to sheer frustration with self-checkout. A 2021 survey of 1,000 people by Raydiant found that "bad experiences" caused a quarter of respondents to stop using the self-service option. About 67% of survey takers said the checkout failed on them. But there are ways to make using the self-checkout line work in your favor.

In addition to avoiding obvious issues, like anything that requires age verification, you can help yourself by limiting your use of self-checkout to when you have a limited number of items in your cart (per Allrecipes). If you have a lot of bags, the weight could trigger a machine error that needs to be fixed by a cashier. (Plus, what if your items pile up in one of those small bagging areas and fall, or you lose track of an item and leave it at the store?) Customer service director of H-E-B Houston, Tom Angelini, recommends limiting the use of the self-checkout line to baskets of 10 items or less. With only a small number of goods, self-checkouts can be a fast and efficient way to finish your shopping.