“Unexpected item in bagging area. Please remove item before continuing.”
Who hasn’t heard that annoying phrase since the installation of self-checkout lanes in all the supermarkets of late? These lanes were meant to simplify the checkout process, but in my experience have only complicated it all.
First of all, you have to put your purchased items in the bags yourself. I’m not an experienced bagger. I’ll put the rat poison right on top of the lettuce or the dripping raw hamburger meat in with the bread. I’ll hear a crunching sound when I throw in a ten-pound bag of flour and then wonder where I placed the eggs. This stuff should be left to professional, licensed baggers.
Next, there is always that one item that you’re not sure how to scan:
The Machine: “Unknown item. Please enter the item’s code or look up item.”
Me: “There is no code, and I don’t even know what this thing is. It’s some sort of South American fruit with spikes that looked interesting.”
So I end up scrolling through endless pages of fruit items on the touch screen trying to find a picture of something that looks like a cross between a kumquat and a porcupine.
And then there is always the one UPC code that is squished and scratched the scanner can’t read, so you try to enter the code manually. I will type in the 126 digits of the code for a bag of lunch meat and it will come up with an 80-inch plasma television.
Machine: “Please place item in the bagging area.”
Me: “How do I place an 80-inch TV onto a bagging area only two feet square?”
You can’t cancel a purchase without a checker who has a special badge and secret code, which defeats the purpose of a “self” checkout lane in my estimation. So you look around for the assigned checker who always seems to be on her smoke break, or is helping some idiot who bought half the store and is trying to fit it all in the bagging area and can’t be bothered.
Realizing help is not forthcoming, you decide an 80-inch plasma TV is needed for the downstairs bathroom anyway and touch the button on the screen that states “I don’t wish to bag this item” hoping to temporarily solve the impasse while you send your child back to the electronics department to drag up the television. But then the machine says, “Validation needed. Please request store assistant” or something to that effect. I’ve never heard it clearly because the machine always then says “Unexpected fist through scanning device. Please remove fist and seek immediate medical attention.”
There’s another reason you might have to call for assistance: The items you scan are assigned a certain weight in the scanner’s database and that weight must match what you place in the bagging area. If there is a disparity in the added weight on the bagging area scale and the item you just scanned, the computer will keep asking you to “please place the item in the bagging area,” by which it means the whole item.
Well, what if you’ve already eaten half the item while you were shopping? So I call the checker over and say, “This stupid machine won’t register this can of Cheeze Whiz.”
Lifting the can, the checker then asks, “Is this a full can?”
My reply: “Um, not really. I ate some of it already.”
The checker: “You mean to tell me you sprayed this gunk directly into your mouth while walking up and down the aisles?”
Me: “Hey, I was hungry. Don’t judge me.”
Checker: “Oh, I’m judging alright! You disgusting glutton! Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to go shopping hungry? How can you tell the difference between this and rat poison anyway?”
Me: “I don’t know. It kind of tastes like lettuce has been tasting lately.”
I remember once when I was a small child going to a pick-it-yourself cherry orchard with my mom. We brought our own basket, which they weighed empty. They would then weigh it again after you filled it with cherries, subtract the weight of the basket and charge accordingly.
They also weighed me before and after the cherry picking and added that difference (probably a pound or two — I was hungry) to the total. Well, maybe they could do that at the grocery store. Just have us all step on the self-checkout scales before we collect our purchases. Just an idea. I’m full of them.
Despite these issues, there are some advantages to self-checkout lanes. If you don’t mess anything up, make sure the UPC codes are readable, really know your fruit, and don’t eat anything — then you can purchase your items and leave the store without involving any judgmental checkers at all.
Anyone who has bought the large tube of extra strength Preparation H knows exactly what I mean.
John Hamilton, creative director for Transcript Bulletin Publishing, is venturing into the world of punditry and riches beyond imagining.