Make Self-Service Checkouts Work More Effectively

Self-service checkouts are increasingly common in supermarkets and chain stores, not to mention at airports. Lifehacker reader and frequent commenter 66biscuits offers a useful tip for ensuring your groceries (or tickets) are recognised quickly.

66biscuits explains that it’s all about having sufficient light:

I’ve found that for laser scanners, holding your item in such a way that as much light as possible falls on the barcode itself seems to help. It seems more consistently successful to me. I reason that more light increases the contrast of that which is being scanned, aiding the process.

I used to work on airline check-in and occasionally provided assistance to those trying to use the self-service kiosks (a little ironic), and found that if people got out of the way of the overhead lights while trying a scan they would have more success. I’ve used this same principle since then and it seems to work everywhere there are problematic scanners.

An obvious-but-still-worth-mentioning additional point: check the item and locate where the barcode is. I often see people frantically waving goods at my local supermarket, blissfully unaware that the code is pointing towards them and invisible to the scanner.

Got any additional tips for getting through self-service checkouts quickly? Share them in the comments. Thanks 66biscuits!


  • Also, make sure you’re not trying to scan a damn orange which hasn’t got a barcode. My wife used to work as “helpdesk” for these self-service checkouts in the states, and she said a lot of her time was spent telling older people that if it doesn’t have a barcode, it won’t scan. Given that barcodes have been around since the 50s (UPC since the 70s, I know), it shouldn’t be that hard to remember, right?

  • Not exactly a tip for getting yourself through quickly, but more so everyone else who is stuck behind you: If you’ve got a trolley, go to a normal staffed register instead of making everyone else wait while you bugger around rearranging things in your trolley while also blocking the way.

  • At the supermarket checkout people need to be more aware of the process. Once you scan an item the system will not scan anything until it has calculated that an item of the correct approximate weight has been placed into the bag. The lights are red while this is happening and you cannot scan any items until the lights go green. Same goes for removing a bag (once the light is green, you can take a full bag).

    If you don’t wait for the green light you’ll invariably run into issues and require the assistant to fix it for you.

  • a lot of times you can bypass a lot of stuff. For example if it is on the menu and you scan something it will just go straight to the scanning process.

    Still i do not understand how people find it so hard to use seeing as it explains it everytime you use the thing. “please scan an item. now put the item in the bag. Now swipe your atm card and enter your pin which is 7243” yet people still find it hard to use.

  • Use the Coles machines, much more stream lined user friendly process. The Woolworths ones add so may extra steps of no purpose.

    1. Scan Items
    2. Press Pay
    3. Press Card
    4. Swipe Card
    5. Collect Receipt
    6. Go

    1. Press Start
    2. Scan Items
    3. Press Pay
    4. Press No I do not have your stupid reward card and don’t want it it
    5. Press Credit (Remember its different to Debit, if you screw up you’ll be back here in a minute or two)
    6. Press Exact Amount Due.
    7. Swipe Card
    8. Press Yes I want a receipt
    9. Go.

    First time I used the Woolworths machines it took like twice as long as the Coles ones.

  • Foodland? BiLo?

    All gone from Victoria.

    We have variants of IGA/Foodworks or Coles, Woolworths &Aldi.

    Much as I detest Aldi at least they sort of serve you.

    Detest self serve checkouts. Why not stack their shelves as well? Clean their toilets?

  • I love self serve, but supermarkets need to stop people from using them if they have more than 12 items. You are not more efficient than the person who does it for a living, don’t try to be. You will be slower and a pain to everyone behind you. Also, the contrast angle trick isn’t helpful, the scanner produces it’s own light (the laser), it doesn’t need more.

  • I gave this tip as I was inspired by recent articles on self check-in kiosks and mobile check-in and boarding at airports. It was more about air travel but it’s good to see a discussion about self serve supermarket checkouts.
    These scanners are in many places now. Price checkers in stores, lotto results in newsagents, check-in and boarding at airports as well as supermarkets. Try the ‘shed some light’ tip for a bit of ‘works quickly first time every time’ magic.

  • Allowing additional light to fall on the barcode should not have any positive effect on the ability for the laser scanner to read the barcode.

    If the light shining on the barcode contains significant IR such as sunlight or a light from a bright incandescent bulb it will often make the barcode unreadable since the photodiode which detects the presence of the reflected laser will be contaminated by the alternative source. A laser scanner, technically will work best, in a completely dark environment since it will be able to detect the presence of reflected light between the light and dark stripes most effectively.

    Of course, if the technology was a camera based system, adding additional light would be an effective way of improving the readability but that technology is unlikely to be used for scanning standard product barcodes.

  • My local (Coles, World Square), the self service checkouts have those teeny little plastic bags that cut your fingers to shreds after about 5 minutes, normally used for small items of meat. Whereas the manned checkouts give you the more “robust” plastic bags.

    (Yeah, I should bring my own bags, but if I thought that far ahead I’d be getting a trolley full of stuff and would not be using self-serve because they don’t fit).

    Also, if the thing stuffs up because you use your own bag and you have to put your hand up and wait for someone to come over and unlock it they should give you a free Freddo Frog.

  • My supermarket self-serve tip: get an empty bag used for mushrooms, put vitamins in the bag, take through the checkout and pay for them as mushrooms.

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