It has been 2 or 3 months since our local Walmart (Georgetown, KY) introduced self-checkout lanes. They eliminated some of the regular and express lanes and replaced them with eight self-checkout machines. I have been using them at Kroger for years, so I was excited to hear they were going to roll out that technology at Walmart too. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived when the new technology at Walmart proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. I gave our local store a grace period to work out the kinks, although with a well-oiled machine like the Walmart system, I feel like I could have rightfully expected a seamless transition. However, I gave them a couple months to see if they could straighten out the areas that were lacking in the self-checkouts at our local store, and they absolutely have not. In fact, it may be worse now than it was when they first started.
I will use my most recent trip to Walmart to outline the shortcomings of the self-checkout experience at Walmart.
1. Self-checkouts are only positioned on the grocery side of the store.
I believe the intended purpose of a self-checkout lane is to allows a person only buying a few items to check out quicker. Unfortunately, if your few items come from Health & Beauty, Hardware, or Home Goods, you lose any extra time you might have gained by having to walk all the way across the store to access the self-checkout.
2. Self-checkouts have caused fewer manned checkout lanes to be open.
Since the introduction of the self-checkouts at my Walmart, they have drastically reduced the number of manned lanes open. Usually during the day when I am there, in addition to the eight self-checkouts, they also have two regular lanes open and occasionally an Express lane. This particular visit, I had about 20 items, there was no Express lane open, and the lines at the two regular lanes were all the way across the aisle. So if I didn’t want to wait in line for at least 20 minutes, I had to use the self-checkout. See point #8 about why I didn’t want to do this.
3. Self-checkouts only work with small orders.
I can rarely use the self-checkout lane at Walmart anyway, because that is usually my large weekly grocery shopping trip, and it isn’t possible to navigate the self-checkout with much more than 20 items. There is no signage on the self-checkout lanes indicating that it should only be for 20 items or less.
4. The self-checkout weight sensors in the bagging area just don’t work.
As mentioned above, you can only use the self-checkout for small orders. Really, though, it only works well if you have few enough items to fit in only one bag. Although there is a large platform
around the one bag stand, assumably intended to hold bags that are already full of items, the weight sensors red flag every time a bag is placed in a spot other than in the bag stand. Every. Time. If you move a full bag out of the bag stand: red flag. If you shift an item inside a bag: red flag. If you take too long to put an item in a bag: red flag. If you’re too quick to put an item in a bag: red flag.
5. Red Flags require a Walmart employee to walk over to your register and scan their badge to approve each error.
So the large number of red flags require physical intervention by a Walmart employee each time. At our Walmart, there is one employee manning all eight self-checkout lanes, and whenever I’ve been checking out there, I’ve had anywhere from 3 to 10 red flags just on a single order. That gets really old when I have to wait for the Walmart employee to come clear me 10 times just to purchase my items. Especially since she has up to 7 other people whose 10 red flags she is trying to clear at the same time. There is no way she is actually checking for whatever reason the red flag came up in the first place. She’s just scanning her badge and moving on to the next one.
*Note: At Kroger, the Self Check employees have a handheld device by which they can interact with the system, so they can clear red flags from one location without having to walk back and forth to each one. That’s really smart and saves a lot of time.
6. There is usually only one employee manning all eight self-checkouts.
I said this in the previous point, but my most recent trip to Walmart showed me another way that this is a serious shortcoming. At this particular time in the store, there were no Express lanes open, and so those with few items had to use the self-checkout if they didn’t want to wait in the long lines at the regular lanes. However, there were several elderly customers who neither wanted to wait in the line nor use the self-checkout. So what they did is walk up to the employee manning the self-checkout and ask if she would just check them out at her register. She accommodated them, and I do not criticize her kindness to the elderly patrons of Walmart. However, that means her hands were full checking out these customers rather than clearing all the red flags of the people who were actually checking themselves out. So this one employee turned out to be running eight self-checkouts AND her own Express lane as well. That didn’t work.
7. Self-checkout bagging areas can’t handle reusable bags.
This could fit under point #3, but it’s a big enough deal to me that it deserves its own point. The weight sensors in the bagging area throw up a red flag whenever I use my reusable bags, which I do every time I go to the store. Every single time I put my bags on the platform after pushing the “I brought my own bags” button, it says “Cannot confirm bags” and requires the employee to come clear me before I can even start scanning my items. Why make it an option on the screen if it doesn’t work?? Then every time I try to use one of the bags or shift the items in one, another red flag.
8. You cannot use price matching at the self-checkout.
Price matching at Walmart is a blessed and beautiful thing. It saves my family a ton of money. This is why I am so dismayed that you can’t do price matching in the self-checkout lane. As I said in point #2, I was forced to choose between a long wait at the regular checkout lane or losing my price matching at the self-checkout. Since I had my 6-year-old with me, I chose the quick option, hoping that Walmart’s new Savings Catcher system would catch some of the matches I was missing. Alas, it did not catch any of the below matches, and so I ended up losing $4.73 by not waiting in the long line. That’s not a ton of money, but it’ll add up over time.
3 cartons of Raspberries 6oz - paid $2.48 each, $1.50 at Kroger - lost $2.94
1 Dozen large eggs - paid $1.98, $1.69 at Kroger - lost $0.29
0.62 lb Plums - paid $1.41, $0.79 at Meijer - lost $0.62
1.27 lb Nectarines - paid $2.51, $1.63 at Meijer - lost $0.88
Total lost: $4.73
So all this is to say that I am extremely disappointed with Walmart’s implementation of self-checkout lanes. Maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated if I didn’t have the excellent experience of Kroger’s Self Checks. However, this is a case in which Walmart needs to take some notes from a competitor on how to do it right.