A Tale of Two Queues

Many of the larger grocery stores have U-Scan check out lanes. These are lanes where you scan and bag your own grocery items. I use them at Loblaws here in Ottawa and Kirkland (Montreal). There are definite experiential differences between the two stores. Maybe it is a store thing, maybe it is a cultural thing - I don't know. Ottawa is a city in the province of Ontario (a predominantly English speaking province with an English history). Kirkland is a city on the island of Montreal in the Province of Quebec (a predominantly French speaking province with a French history). Geographically Ottawa is larger than Montreal. Population wise, Montreal is larger than Ottawa. Both are very multicultural.

Both store have the same type of U-Scan setup. There are two extra wide checkout lanes, with four U-Scan terminals in each lane - two on each side of the lane.

I prefer the experience in Ottawa to Montreal principally because I find it faster and less of a hassle.

In Ottawa, most items scan in quickly. In Montreal, I often have to wave the package in front of the scanner before it reads it. I think this is because in Montreal the glass on the scanner is often dirtier. (I should point out that Kirkland, is a quite upscale. Surrounding municipalities like Pointe-Claire and D.D.O. are more middle class).

Sometimes you scan an item and place it in the bag and the terminal will tell you, "Please scan the item first before placing it in the bag" or "Please wait for cashier assistance." When this happens in Ottawa, the cashier who is monitoring all the lanes simply clears the error. In Montreal, the cashier comes over and checks your bags to identify the offending item.

The same thing happens with coupons. When you give a coupon in Ottawa, the cashier simply rings it in. When you hand in a coupon in Montreal, she comes to check your bags.

Interestingly, when you pay with debit card, you are given the option to get cash back (like at an ATM). In Ottawa you have to get your receipt initialed that you got cash back; in Montreal, they just wave you by.

The worst experience is at a store called Maxi (run by Loblaws) in Pointe-Claire, where the cashier never seems to fail to notice you have put lemons and limes in the same bag (because they are the same price) and rung them through as one item. They always come by and chastise you for not ringing them through separately (ostensibly for inventory control). However, when you need the cashier's assistance, she seems to be away from her monitor station.

Image nabbed from here.

[Note: for some reason Blogger is not uploading images at the moment.]


TorAa said…
Once upon a time I had an AISEC summerjob in a bank in Paris. During the stay I learned the origin of the word: Bureaucracy.
Anyway: Interesting observation.

PS. Me too once in a while have problems with uploading pictures to my blog.
Barbara said…
It used to seem like the check-out clerks were so knowledgable. Now I am just about as good as most of them, so from an efficiency standpoint, I often prefer to check myself out, instead of going through a slow-moving line where the clerk is spending more time talking to a fellow clerk than ringing up my groceries.
Matt said…
I'm not sure if I understood this correctly. It sounds like to me that you place your items in your cart as usual, then you choose a special checkout lane where you can find a terminal where you can scan your items yourself.

If I got that right, then that is not how it works here.

In Sweden, you get a little scanner that you place on your cart. You scan your items as you walk around in the store. You put the items directly into bags that you have in your cart.

Then you go to a special checkout lane and hand over the scanner to the person there. He or she will hook it up to a normal cash register and you can choose to pay with cash or card.

Every now and then, they will ask you to unpack all your items so that they can check that you haven't stolen anything. It happens very rarely though.

I like how it works here. It is fast and convenient and I haven't experienced any problems...yet.
tin-tin said…
i don't really encounter that kind of problem here in the philippines coz there are always the cashiers who would rung it up for you :)
RennyBA said…
Interesting observation Richard. Never experienced it in Norway:-)
Blogger is probably not uploading because the French cashier is checking the picture of lemons and limes in the same bag! Busted, Richard!!!

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have yet to try these self check-outs because they involve technology and when I get too close to it, there's always a breakdown. I'd rather talk to a real person anyway and get any local news or chit chat. I know many of the cashiers..some are old students. I bet you they are probably faster..well faster than me scanning anyway!

I'm counting on you, Richard, to carry out an experiment that will test this out!

And how do you pay by Visa at those scanners? (I do that for gas and groceries for the air mile points.)
Richard said…
toraa: thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.

barbara: the advantage the check out clerk has is that she can usually bulk scan 15 items at once. Whereas we are stuck scanning it 1 can of tuna fish at a time.

matt: yes, you understood perfectly. Wow! I like the way they do it in Sweden. Much more efficient.

tin-tin: perhaps, but sometimes one cashier might be slower than another.

rennyba: it is just a question of paying attention to what is around us. I prefer to check things out myself, because I get to bag it the way I want it.

MOI: At first it is unfamiliar, but once you do it once, you get the hang of it. At Loblaws I pay with my President's Choice debit card. Everywhere else I pay with my President's Choice Mastercard. This way I always collect PC points (eventually redeemable at Loblaws and affiliates).

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