What happened to ‘human’ grocery experience?

Published 12:07 am Sunday, March 12, 2017

A  “quick” trip to Walmart Saturday turned into quite an adventure for my 4-year-old daughter and me.

Time is pretty much lost on Anna at the moment. The concepts of being late or wasting time are utterly foreign.

Boredom, however, comes on fast.

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Shopping was fun for her, but the checkout experience was excruciatingly boring.

For me the nearly 30-minute wait in the checkout line was maddening as well, but not because I was bored. My frustration related more to the realization that I was wasting precious time because an international company decided its profit was more important than my time.

In hindsight, I got exactly what I deserved. I should have known better than to go to Walmart in the middle of the day on Saturday. The place was busy and as usual the store doesn’t have enough clerks working checkout.

On Saturday as I stood in line No. 4 waiting to pay up, I looked around and noticed the store’s solution — more of the automated check out kiosks are being installed to replace the rarely used human checkout lanes.

I despise the self-checkout.

The message is: We’re such a lazy store, we won’t even pay someone to take your money.

My dislike reminds me of a conversation I had many, many years ago with the late Christina Hall, who was a longtime columnist for the newspaper.

She told me once how frustrated she was with salads at a local restaurant. I asked her what the problem with the salads was.

“Simple,” she said. “I’m paying $12 for a salad, I expect the restaurant to have cut up the lettuce into bite-size pieces.”

She had a point, and in my mind, it applies to Walmart.

But unfortunately Walmart isn’t alone. Many other national retailers are doing the same thing.

My wife used to love the self-checkout. Her attitude is: Just move out of the way, and let me do it myself.

Early on, she’d taught our daughter the joys of scanning one’s own goods and bagging one’s own purchases.

Approximately a year ago after hearing complaints from probably half a dozen people who found themselves arrested after missing an item in the self-checkout, I suggested perhaps using the self-checkouts was not such a good idea.

Soon after a newspaper reporter did some digging and found even more people who claim they were charged with shoplifting after mistakenly not scanning an item.

Further, in the article we published, former municipal court Judge Jim Blough said he would absolutely not use the self-checkouts.

That was good enough for me. I don’t want to be arrested for a mistake.

Besides, the people who work as checkout clerks are people too. The way I figure it, my going through their lines helps justify their existence to the powers that be in the Walmart global headquarters.

Thus, we waited — nearly 30 minutes just to make a purchase.

Given the apparent increasing number of self-checkout kiosks at Walmart, I can quickly envision a time when that will be the only choice if you patronize the store.

After approximately 10 minutes in line I realized two things — I miss the loss of Kmart, which for literally the better part of two decades covered the great majority of things I ever needed from Walmart, and I should have gone to Natchez Market Saturday and done without the Walmart-only items.

The experience at Natchez Market — I’m a regular at No. 1 on John R. Junkin, once conveniently located next to Kmart before that store closed — could not be more different.

I don’t ever recall waiting even a few minutes in line at Natchez Market, and the human checkout people are always nice and friendly.

Although I don’t need any groceries at the moment, I may go buy something today just to return to a sense of normalcy after the long, strange wait at Walmart.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.