Five-item self-checkout: How long does it take?

By Jane Touzalin and Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 10:43 AM

How easy is it to get in and out using the self-checkout lanes at various Washington-area grocery stores? We sampled them at random times over the past month, checking out the same five items: three limes, a pound of fresh salmon fillet, a can of chickpeas, a quart of milk and a 12-pack of soda.

Self-checkout expert Glenn Gibson of Magruder's says with that shopping list, a customer should expect to done in under two minutes from the time the automated system says "Welcome. . . ."

Results are listed in alphabetical order:


At 11 a.m. on a Friday, the store near Fairfax City was nearly devoid of shoppers, so there wasn't much action in the four regular checkout lanes and three self-checkout lanes. The store had no express lanes, but it helps hasten shopping during busier times by providing a few short-term parking spaces close to the building that were labeled "Quick Shop 20 Minute Parking."

Most shoppers seemed to be older than 50. Only four (two women including me, two men) used the self-checkout lanes, maybe because with so few customers there were no lines to wait in. One of the three machines wasn't in service, but the outage didn't cause problems because demand was so low.

All of us who used the self-check machines had from two to five items. One of us, a woman probably in her 70s, had to get help from the attendant because there was a problem with a price (not because the shopper didn't know how to use the machine). I punched the stopwatch button on my phone just before punching the "start" button on the self-check machine and, without hurrying, had bagged my five items and pulled the receipt from the machine in 1 minute 42 seconds.

The procedure for the limes seemed to be better than the one in Harris Teeter (see below), where if the bar-code sticker has fallen off the produce you have a couple of fairly irritating methods of identifying it and checking it out. Here, there were photos of produce you could select, but the really helpful feature was an alphabetical list across the bottom of the screen where I touched "L" and got photos of all the L produce; then I touched a photo of limes. Then I had to enter the quantity.

At that point, the Harris Teeter machine makes you place the bag of limes on the scanner, presumably so it can double-check the item. The more trusting Bloom machine let me put the limes right into my shopping bag.

- J.T.


During the weekdays and weekends, the Westbard Avenue Giant in Bethesda is always busy. It has a total of 19 lanes: two short self-checkouts, five conveyor-belt self-checkouts, two express lanes and 12 manned checkouts.

At 3 p.m. on a Saturday, the lanes with cashiers were not all occupied, but the ones that were had large orders to process. Most of the self-check lanes had a single customer at them; all but one of these were men who appeared to be middle-aged with an average of three to six items. One awaited intervention from an employee ("I don't know why; I can't get through without one item giving me trouble"). The woman had more than 12 items but had used a hand-held scanner, so she zipped through a short self-checkout lane without having to handle any items in her rolling hand basket.

I chose a conveyor-belt self-checkout lane. I scanned my store bonus card and started with the limes, which took screen touches to locate. I hesitated a few seconds while I pulled the 12-pack of soda from the cart and was told to "Move your limes to the belt." I completed scanning the rest of the order and paid by debit card, without incident. Each time I scanned an item that had a discount, the system told me how much I saved. The transaction took 1 minute 52 seconds, not including the time it took to bag the items at the far end of the counter. I was reminded by the machine to take my receipt.

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