Big box stores could make shopping easier

BY CHUCK WITT

Sun Columnist

Walmart has never been particularly customer friendly.  Those who shop there, even on rare occasions, can attest to the fact that there is almost never enough checkout lanes open to adequately accommodate the number of people waiting to have their purchases checked.

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, a gentleman – who avoids shopping Walmart as much as possible — selected four small items to purchase.  He carried all of the items in one hand, they were so insignificant.

Arriving at the front of the store expecting to either find a short checkout lane or an empty self-checkout machine, he was somewhat astounded to find himself in a long waiting line, all of whose inhabitants were waiting for a self-checkout machine to become available.

There were no attendant lanes open ready to process checkouts, and the line in front of him contained about nine people, not counting the ones who were already self-checking at the 10 or so machines available.

As he waited – admittedly impatiently – the line continued to grow, and there were soon about 20 shoppers waiting behind him.

Oddly, while this group of shoppers was increasing by the minute, there were about another 10 self-checkout machines not in service!

It appeared that the wait time was getting to be such that men could grow a noticeable beard, and food requiring refrigeration would spoil before one could reach a point to check out.

Finally, when a machine became available, the gentleman moved forward and dutifully scanned each of his four items, one of which was a can of spray paint.

Horrors!

The machine notified him that one of his items would require approval before the purchase could be completed, and he looked around for a staff member, of whom there was only one, who was trying valiantly to aid 10 customers, some of whom needed help in checking all their items because they were totally unfamiliar with the machinations of the computerized devices.

These were the same people who would normally have waited in line – even very long lines – to go through a lane where staff was there to check them out.

There are now very few remaining checkout lanes in the local Walmart, and perhaps even those will eventually give way to the complete front of the store dedicated to self checkout machines.

If customers are relegated to that method of making their purchases, it is likely that the customer base of Walmart will dramatically shrink … as it should.

And the unfortunate thing of this condition is that Kroger is moving in the same direction, perhaps somewhat less noticeably.

The local Kroger has two self checkout areas and fewer help lanes, and those lanes are never fully staffed.

Kroger staff are almost universally friendly and helpful but sometimes there is an unnecessary slowness in opening a help lane when the waiting lines begin to lengthen.

And the self checkout machines are not especially friendly since the area where one can place items after they have been scanned is just too small for someone with a loaded cart.

The trend is not friendly, but is probably inevitable. Regardless, there is something special about being aided by a real human, who is often more capable than a machine anyway.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.