The potential benefits of using a self-service checkout at the supermarket include: speed, nimbleness, self-sufficiency, a sense of accomplishment and the avoidance of human contact. Yet such newfangled devices also present traps for the unwary. Here are my top seven tips for successful navigation of self-service checkouts.

1. Don't be greedy

I aim for a two-bag maximum when planning a visit to the self-service checkout. This is because I have not yet mastered the art of lifting full bags off the checkout platform before their contents have been paid for. I've already been mistakenly accused of unspeakable acts by this inanimate yet verbal machine. And, quite frankly, I'm a little spooked by it.

I do not want to know what would happen if I removed bulk groceries mid-shop. Will a robotic arm emerge and extend to slap a pair of handcuffs onto this alleged grocery thief? Will I be pepper-sprayed or tasered? I'm not willing to find out. So be like me and keep to the two-bag maximum. That way no one will get hurt. Probably.

2. Eschew lightweight items

Things that weigh hardly anything, such as packs of 100 cheap paper serviettes, can pose difficulties for self-service machines. You might scan the product then drop it in the bag and think your work is done. But you would think wrong because the machine may then issue the following verbal instruction: "Please place the item in the bagging area".


This is awkward because you have just placed the item in the bagging area. Such a situation can discombobulate the customer. "I have. I have. I have just placed the item in the bagging area," she might reply to the unblinking screen while taking the serviettes out of the bagging area before putting them back in and pressing down on them for good measure. But these efforts seldom satisfy the machine which can only be pacified by the intervention of a supermarket employee.

3. Don't "swipe everything as carrots"

You know that expensive out-of-season produce you've just chosen? Well, self-service checkouts allow criminals to scan these items and pretend that they're boring old carrots.

That's right, if you're unprincipled enough you can rip off the supermarket quite easily it seems. If the folklore is true, supermarkets must be going through mega quantities of "carrots" these days. Just don't do it. It's not nice and I'm pretty sure it's unlawful.

4. Don't hatch elaborate schemes

An "Australian mum" concocted an "elaborate barcode scam". Evidently, this "labour-intensive plot" involved photocopiers, sticky labels and packets of two-minute noodles. The preparation and thought that went into this was impressive. It just makes you think the woman might have been able to make a sum greater than $4,800 if she had applied this ingenuity and effort to a project that was lawful.

5. Don't buy booze

Because the age of customers must be verified before alcohol can be lawfully sold, self-service checkouts require the intervention of a supermarket employee in order to complete alcohol purchases. This can be awkward. You have to produce your ID and convince the person that, despite your youthful appearance, you are indeed aged eighteen or over.

It's a bit of a hassle and defeats part of the purpose of a self-service checkout which is to avoid human contact. (Actually, I was just kidding before; I haven't been asked for ID for quite a few years now.)

6. Don't be a slow scanner

I'm a pretty slick scanner of grocery items, if I say so myself. I wave those barcodes like a semi-professional. No one's going to be standing in line behind me and thinking: "Will she hurry up? What is her problem?" If, however, you have not been blessed with a natural aptitude for scanning cans of baked beans and tubs of sour cream then please just stay away from the self-service areas. You will only annoy others with your poor skills. Plus, you're negating one of the key attributes of the self-service checkout: speed.

7. Don't panic when you're accused of stealing

Question: What are the five words most likely to stress out a self-service customer? Answer: "Unexpected item in bagging area". When I hear this, I'm all like: "Nooooooooo! Not true." Then I look around and wonder who else has witnessed this.

It's virtually an accusation that you're attempting to steal from the supermarket. This is really annoying when a) you're not attempting to steal anything, and b) you've actually gone out of your way to neither "scan everything as carrots" nor concoct an "elaborate barcode scam". If a machine directs these words to you, just shrug, smile, look helpless and wait for the human worker to rescue you. And then resolve to never use a self-serve checkout again.