Bagging the Self-Checkout at Supermarkets Already?

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Danny Moloshok / Reuters

Nine-year-old Michael Pabon grabs a bag to pack groceries as his father, Fornetty Pabon, looks on while completing his transaction at a self-service checkout station.

Some people crave the self-checkout at grocery stores. Maybe they love the control, or it brings out the kid in them when they scan an item and get rewarded with that special beep. But now a study says that those folks represent the minority and most shoppers would rather entrust their groceries to someone else — someone trained to clerk — and not risk dealing with a machine telling them they did something wrong.

While some stores nationwide still play catch-up as they try to make room for the self-checkouts, others have already started ripping them out, citing dissatisfaction with customers desiring a personal experience.

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A Food Marketing Institute study found that 16 percent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were at self-checkout lanes, having fallen from the high of only 22 percent three years ago. The majority of customers claim the shopping experience runs more smoothly with a real clerk scanning the items, dealing with coding in produce and bagging up groceries. Other customers fear those excruciating seconds they have to wait when the machine freezes up because a self-checked item wasn’t bagged properly or something was coded in wrong.

Plus, stores don’t mind limiting both accidental and purposeful thefts by reducing the self-checkout lanes.

With satisfaction surveys scoring higher when customers don’t have to bother with self-checkout, enough factors have piled up to cause some retail chains to pull out all self-checkout lanes and others to limit the self-checkout kiosks.

Still, many stores are grappling with the issue. Others still are considering leaving at least a few self-checkout lines, and thereby appealing to every kind of shopper, including those who love the speed—and the self-induced scanning sound—of a self-checkout.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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