self-checkout
(SELF chek.owt) n. A retail system that enables a customer to enter and pay for purchases without the aid of a cashier.
adj.

Example Citation:
Nearly a quarter of all supermarket chains offer self-checkout, up from only 6 percent in 1999, according to industry surveys. In stores that have the computerized kiosks, about half of the customers use them, a recent study by the Food Marketing Institute found.

The retail research firm IHL Consulting Group projects that, with advancements in technology, self-checkout could be installed in 95 percent of checkout lanes by the end of the decade. All types of retailers are considering the systems — with Kmart Corp. and Kroger Co. recently placing huge orders for them — but grocery stores are leading the trend.
—Greg Schneider, "Touch and Pay, Here to Stay," The Washington Post, October 12, 2002

Earliest Citation:
Some industry observers envision supermarkets offering shoppers an option of checking themselves out within the next three years. Other major computer makers—including Henry M. Steele, industry consultant in the retail food and drug group of IBM, and Tony Fano, assistant vice president, food and drug marketing, NCR retail systems division—agree that although technology for self-checkout is available it may not be cost-justified.

Other manufacturers predict a promising future and customer acceptance of a self-checkout lane in a store equipped with a conveyor belt that continually passes items along a combination scanner and security surveillance system. At stores with several self-checkout lanes, a cashier close to the checkstands would help customers and answer questions.
—Joel Elson, "Computers seen transforming supermarket of the future," Supermarket News, April 23, 1984

Notes:
Is today's term more evidence that we're increasingly "bowling alone"? That phrase was popularized by Robert Putnam in an essay called "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," that appeared in the January 1995 issue of the Journal of Democracy. (An expanded version is available in book form.) Putnam argued that civil society was eroding because people were becoming increasingly disconnected from their neighbors and communities. His whimsical symbol for this was the fact that, at the time, more Americans than ever were bowling, but bowling league participation was down 40 percent since 1980.

Today's term is a symbol for a related cultural trend: the increasing lack of interaction between customers and retailers. Online shopping has a lot to do with this, of course, but even in the real world bank tellers, gas jockeys, and parking lot attendants are all endangered retail species. And will we soon be adding grocery store cashiers to that list? How grim must the shopping experience become?

The ironic angle on all this is that the more automated and "alone" the checkout process becomes, the more the customer's privacy is sacrificed. Most self-checkout systems accept cash, but how long before that becomes inconvenient for the retailer? Then there are the touch-and-pay (or pay-by-touch) systems where you pay for your purchase by touching a screen that scans your fingerprint. (Oops, sorry, I mean your finger image; apparently fingerprint has — gasp! — negative connotations.) This is matched to the credit card or bank account data you have on file, and your purchase is automatically charged. I get the willies just thinking about it.

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