7 Things You Need To Know About Using Self-Checkout

self checkout

Some things in life seem highly appealing to begin with, only to lose their sheen once you actually experience them for yourself. And for the longest time, that was exactly how I felt about using the self-checkout machines at the grocery store!

The idea of quickly scanning and bagging my own items was very appealing at first. But when I actually attempted it, I found the self-checkout machine to be a lot more finicky than I had expected it to be, and it seemed to be fond of repeatedly alerting the attendant for unknowable reasons!

But I didn’t let that less-than-ideal first experience stop me from trying again. After a few more attempts, I had picked up a few tips and tricks that made it much easier and less anxiety-inducing to go through self-checkout!

In today’s blog post, I’ll be sharing 7 of those useful self-checkout tips for those who could use a bit of coaching on the subject themselves! By the end of this post, you’ll be armed with all the knowledge you need to breeze through the self-checkout lane like a total pro. :-)

7 Tips For Using The Self-Checkout Lane Like A Pro

self checkout

1. Set Expectations

Want to use your own reusable shopping bags in the self-checkout lane? Be sure to communicate that to the checkout machine before you start scanning your items.

Look for a button on the checkout screen that says “I brought my own bags” (or something similar.) Hitting that button before you start scanning will let the machine know to expect the additional weight from your bags in the bagging area. (If the machine doesn’t know to expect that weight, it will likely alert the attendant and slow you down.)

self checkout

2. Know When To Avoid It

Depending on the situation, self-checkout isn’t always the best option! For instance, you may want to avoid self-checkout when…

  • You’re alone and have a full shopping cart. It will take a while to scan and bag all those groceries on your own, so why not save yourself some time and effort by having a cashier scan them for you?
  • You have several coupons you want to use. Self-checkout machines often require an attendant to verify your coupons or enter them into the system for you. Even if you’re just buying a few things, that process may cancel out any time you might have saved by choosing self-checkout anyway.
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3. Use The PLU Code

The most time-consuming part of using self-checkout is scanning your produce items, because most don’t have scannable bar codes. To scan produce items using self-checkout, you can look up items up by name, photo, or by entering its 4- or 5- digit price look-up (PLU) code.

Entering the PLU code is a big time-saver, and it’s usually displayed right on the produce sticker, label, or wrapping. (Experienced cashiers may have hundreds of PLU codes memorized, enabling them to blaze through produce items with ease!)

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4. Don’t Skip Steps

When you’re scanning a large item, like a bag of pet food or a big box of soda, you may not want or need to put it in a bag. But that doesn’t mean you can just put it right back in your cart after scanning it, because the machine’s scale will expect the added weight.

Instead, you can do one of two things. The first option is to scan the item and set it in the bagging area without actually putting it in a bag. The second is to hit the “Skip Bagging” button and then put it back in your cart. Either option will help you avoid triggering the machine to call for an attendant!

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5. Team Up

One of the best ways to breeze through self-checkout is to team up with a partner! It works best when one person is charge of unloading the cart and handing stuff off, and the other person takes the items, scans them, and puts them in the bagging area.

These roles keep both people out of each other’s way, and it makes it less likely that you bag things out of order and confuse the machine. With a little bit of teamwork and practice, you and your partner will be self-checkout professionals in no time!

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6. Scan In Order

Scanning items in a certain order can make things go a lot more smoothly, both while you’re checking out and later on when you unload your groceries at home. So when it’s your turn at the self-checkout stand, scan your items in order of how you plan to bag them.

For each new bag, start by scanning a few larger or heavier items, then scan a few smaller, lighter items to add on top. You may also want to group similar items together in one bag, such as frozen foods or produce. A little planning can go a long way here! :-)

self checkout

7. Be Ready To Pay

When you’re on your way to the self-checkout lane, take an extra 30 seconds to make sure you know where your wallet is before you get there. No matter how quickly you scan and bag your items, stopping to dig around in your purse for your debit card is going to slow you down big time (not to mention the people standing in line behind you!)

Do you prefer to use self-checkout, or do you normally go to a cashier?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Bright Ideas

  • I usually use the self checkout if it’s a small run in and out order. If I’m at Sams, then I do all of it on my mobile, it makes it so convenient. Military commissary shopping is done with a check out person because it is always a full basket. It’s more what is needed at the time of the shopping trip.

  • I signed up for Walmart+ and get 90% of my groceries delivered. The prices online can be less than if you shopped in the store. I not only have a personal shopper, but I also have a delivery driver. That’s a twofer folks LOL

    Also, you personally using self check out DOES NOT take away jobs from people. The store already made that decision and standing in line waiting to check out with a cashier will not change that.

  • I almost ALWAYS use self-checkout. I’m in a college town and young people cant be bothered to scan or bag correctly, and go un-trained. I guess it’s difficult when taking care of customers interrupts screen time. And yes, kids DO stop to read messages during checkout.
    I’d rather do it myself and pack bags correctly so nothing is damaged.

  • It is getting more difficult in our area (Okla) to find human checkers. I do not like checking myself out they will stop everyone from going out of the store until they match purchases with receipt. This is usually one person and they expect everyone to wait in line for this. Customer service is something that will eventually be no more.

  • I LOVE self-checkout! I can take my time and make sure that the items that are on sale are actually rung up with the sale price. I can’t tell you how many times that the regular price comes up instead of the sale price! If you’re in a cashier line, they ring it up way too quickly to notice if the wrong price comes up. And regarding all the people who said they won’t use the line because of peoples’ jobs- self-checkout is definitely not going away! I can remember when we had gas station workers actually pump your gas for you. Try finding that service now. Lol

  • The cashier at Walmart taught me that the bar codes on boxes are on the bottom and other shaped containers have the bar codes on the side.

  • I work in retail. I rarely use the self -checkout because it requires using my debit card. We actually have a few customers who use the self – checked out with big cart loads. Your not taking anyone’s job away by using it. The control freaks are who drive us nuts. Not letting me bag in certain ways. I’ve worked retail too many years and I know what works. If someone is a total control freak – go ahead and use the self-checkout., It’s one more headache not to have to deal with for me and my co-workers.

  • I take advantage of self check out whenever I’m at Walmart. I make comparatively smaller purchases there so I find it a lot more convenient. I buy all my groceries elsewhere.

  • I can’t get to the big stores, due to transportation. So I shop my local IGA. And I only can get there about once a month if I’m felling good enough to drive. The on e thing I’ve always had problems with is Organizing my grocery cart. I’m not buying the cart folders. And I don’t have the option of someone to go with me, in the store.. Any handy tips?? Thanks in advance.

  • I hate self check out. The stores act as if (especially Walmart) like they are doing you a favor to self check out. After I have shopped thru the entire store and am willing to spend money there, they think it’s a favor offering me the opportunity to check my goods out myself?! Seriously, I expect SERVICE. Open more of those closed registers by putting checkers there. Don’t put underaged people checking out there as you have to wait for a supervisor to come and check out alcohol or cigarettes, even if it is not you buying it but is the person in front of you. Cashiers used to be taught how to bag groceries, etc. Frozen with frozen, cleaners separate from food, etc. I would gladly pay a little more for service. If they want me to check my own purchases out myself, they better be paying me like they do the checkers or offering me a discount. Otherwise, open up those closed registers!

    • I think we should encourage underage people to get jobs even if it is just a cashier. When I have to wait I’m just glad that not all the youth are “above having a job”.

  • I will not use self checkout because not only does it replace peoples’ jobs with machines that require this amount of catering to, but also because the stores do not share the savings with their customers; self-checkout is maximizing profits for the store, not serving customers

      • I completely agree, I will never use self checkout, as it is how stores eliminate jobs!
        I am retired, in no hurry so I would rather wait in line, plus most check out clerks are pleasant and enjoy a cheery, “Hello,” and a “Thank you,” if they bag your groceries. Sometimes stores hire people to bag your groceries, please, thank them.
        If I bag my own, a savvy clerk will thank you and it will be appreciated by the folks waiting in line behind you.
        I usually start bagging my groceries but frankly at my age I am slow, so I apologize to the folks behind me.

  • I prefer self-checkout simply because I can bag my groceries the way I want them.
    Even at Sam’s Club, when they had no self-checkout, I would put the groceries on the conveyor the way I wanted them to go back into the cart so it would be more efficient to load my car. But the clerk still chose the way to pack the cart again. I guess I’m too much of a control freak!

  • I just assumed everyone already did all of these things… I avoid cashiers like the plague. I’ll shop at stores that have self-checkouts out of preference. Last time I bought groceries (self-checkout lines were full) the cashier tried to overcharge me three times–scanned one bag of greens three times, bread twice, and then after I caught her doing those, she scanned a jar of sauce twice! I had to go through the service line to get a refund because I didn’t catch it until I checked my receipt. Then she dropped melons on top of my peaches and the jars on top of my chips. Yeah. I don’t want that stress. I’d rather do it myself and not deal with that sort of nastiness. I also get to decide exactly how I want to bag things. For me, self-checkout is never a time saver, but a sanity saver.

  • I love self-checkout, and my kids love to use it b/c they can scan things and put the money in, etc! I would much rather scan things myself and see that they are rung up right (sometimes the cashiers are going too fast and I’m still trying to make sure I wasn’t overcharged for my peaches and miss the next 4 items) and bag them the way I want them. And it’s happened more than once that I’ve thought I got 5 items that are on the “buy 5, get $5 back” or similar type of sale, only to find that one was the wrong size and not included on the sale…much easier to run back and get one more thing when you’re at a self scan than with a cashier.

  • Most stickers on produce these days have a bar code. Instead of entered the PLU number you can just scan the sticker and place item on scale or enter quantity. I’ve found this to be a game changer at the self check out. Also the PLU for bananas is the same in EVERY store, 4011!

  • I prefer to use the cashier checkout. Partly because it creates a job for somebody and partly because I’m disabled and can use all the help I can get. If I have a larger order, I will ask for someone to take it to the car for me and put it in the back. I tip well of course.

  • I have been doing self check for years and know the routine, however barcode reading is sometimes an issue. Machine can’t read or some other issue. Most of the stores I go to you have to wait & beg for help when it happens. But mostly it is faster.
    Also, since the pandemic I no longer carry my purse. One less thing to clean up. many stores no longer clean carts as they did in beginning!!!
    I have my hand sanitizer holder and made credit card holder with a snap & on my belt they go.No fumbling around at checkout. Easy to get to. less stuff to carry. I can even put a few bills in case I want to pay with cash.
    It works for Dr appointments too. Insurance cards, ID fit into little flat pouch.
    Trying to stay safe & travel light. Less to sanitize.

  • I only use the self check out as an express lane when I have a few items and get in the regular lines if I have more. One thing I’ve noticed is that coupons over $1 need approval. In this time of pandemic I’ve begun using my phone to pay wherever I can to less the surfaces I have to touch. Just be sure to have it pulled up on your phone before you start so you don’t hold the line up when ready to pay. Things like Walmart Pay work at the self scans too.

  • I live in Maryland and my mail grocery store (Giant Food) allows shoppers who have loyalty cards to check out a handheld scanner and use it as you shop to scan your groceries and bag as you go. They call the program “Scan It” and I love it. I can put all my cold items in one bag as I go. I never squish my bread or chips and when I get to the end of my shopping trip one quick click on the scanner allows me to transfer my list to the check out so I can just pay and go with my groceries already all packed up. I wish other stores would do this.

    • Lynne, what an awesome idea. I haven’t seen that where I am but I will keep an eye out for it. I would positively LOVE being able to scan and bag as I go! Once we are past COVID restrictions, maybe some stores in my area will do it. Thanks for your comment on this.

      • Our Smith’s (Kroger) used to do this- Scan, Bag, Go. They discontinued it due to struggles with computers not working, problems with theft, etc. I was so sad. I loved it so much and was so grateful they had it as long as they did. I loved out so much that I would only go to Smith’s that had this service.

    • I dislike the hand-held scanners, as I have seen people take some small items and “forget?” to scan them. It is a bonus for dishonest shoppers. Plus, I l like to chat, albeit briefly, with the check-out person.

  • If, like me, you find the voice on the scanner to be rather annoying, just look at the bottom edge of the screen for the volume button. Just touch it a couple times to mute it.

  • Julie, I want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and how much I have learned. I admire your hard work and that you like the challenge of finding better, more efficient and greener ways of living. I respect how you shared your story and the courage you showed in the challenges you have overcome.

    I would like to add to your blog about self checkouts from another perspective.
    I often hear the comments that electronics and technology have taken over our lives. I am in somewhat agreement, yet I do encourage and understand all the benefits we as a society have achieved from the courage and wisdom of those who, like you, make the way for new ideas and products. There was a time a person died from an abscessed tooth and is was more than common for women to die in child birth, and technology and knowledge has changed the world so much for the better.

    I think technology is wonderful,when used in keeping with,and remembering the human face of such advances. Many, many, lives have been saved, children are learning that would otherwise not learn, people with no voice are able to communicate through touch boards and these forms of technology create a better live and world for humankind.

    But as humans, we have a responsibility to ensure we leave the world a better place for others. Selfcheck is simply corporate for the sake of profit. It is guised in the illusion of creating more time for the consumer, but in reality it is taking the livelihood of many. I have heard, from large stores, that they are hiring more people for selfcheck, and that may be so at the beginning, but as soon as the turn over is complete, that will not be the case.

    In many stores the marketing ploy is to have few cashiers, so the lines are long, and then a cashier comes up and says “I can help you use the self checkout.” You are, perhaps, in a hurry, or have a fussy toddler, and viola, it has worked, as the store purposely has decreased te cashiers for this very reason, and you are now part of the corporate greed takeover.

    Self checkout needs no holidays, no benefits, no raises, there is only profit. The stores don’t, as of yet, offer a discount for you working for them. and there are so few cashiers, people are forced to use the self check out. The marketing is all very subliminal. I watch the cashiers say to customers “You can use the cheself check out’ I think how difficult that must be, that you are told to help eliminate your own job. Retail workers are already one of the most overworked and underpaid sectors of the workforce, and selfcheck will only exacerbate the situation.

    We are seeing malls close, as online shopping surges, we are seeing many jobs that were once part of our society eliminated, think self serve gas stations, but the price of gas is not reflected in lack of attendants and money saved, but the profits are.

    We need, as a society, to distinguish when technology is so very beneficial, and when it crosses the line and becomes harmful.

    We do, as consumers, have the power. Corporations will NEVER, EVER, stop trying to increase profits or exploit humans, but we have the power to not buy things such as sweat shop products, cheap plastic toys that are part of the food industry, or self check out. If we continue to let humankind ravage the ability of people to work, there will be a greater void between the rich and the poor.

    I see you as a leader in innovative ways of being more efficient and productive, but this post,does not speak to that.

    I also have affiliates and have to, on occasions, decide that I will not be part of any corporation whose sole purpose is to increase profits at the expense of those who are already on the margins,especially in these difficult times.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Joan, I worked in retail for 16 years and can assure you that self-checkout is not taking anyone’s jobs. We were all worried about that as employees when it first came out too. However, with the successful introduction of self checkout, online ordering was introduced at your retail and grocery stores. Remember the good old days when you could order your groceries from the store and they would deliver them for you? Well, those days have returned. I’m sure you have noticed in your local store there are more store associates on the sales floor pushing big racks/carts around with items on it. Those people are paid by the company as basically personal shoppers. They shop for you, package up your groceries and deliver them either to your home or to your car when you come to pick them up. They are paid directly by the store and receive benefits because they are employees of the store (unlike instacart). If the checkout lines get too long up front then those employees are also register trained and will come off the floor to ring people up as well.

      • Where I shop there is always one or more cashiers monitoring the self check out. They are just able to “check out” more than one person at a time.

  • I use the self checkout all the time for the few things I need when shopping. It is handy for me and don’t feel I am taking away anyone’s job. I’ve worked as a cashier before in a grocery store so it usually goes very fast for me. If I am going for a full cart full of regular groceries then I use a cashier because it is faster and more convenient, or if a store has no self service, and some don’t. I scan all of the store ads and do my shopping by what is on sale and most stores are in fairly close proximity so I don’t feel like it’s a waste of time or money to shop different stores. All in all I really like the self checkouts. By the way Jillee, can you give a taste test on the caulipower pizza you purchased? Trying to find a brand that the daughter might like for a snack.

  • Self checkouts increase the bottom line of the company offering them. Why would you want to work for any company without getting paid or contributing to the loss of someones job just to increase their profits? When the company offers checkouts that limit the items such as an express lane of 15 items or less the lines move quickly if only a few items are needed. If these self checkouts are avoided and lines form at the cashiers the company would need to open more cashiers to serve the customers. I feel we pay enough money to purchase our groceries without having to work for the company for free to get them.

    • Go to your local stores’ website and order your groceries online. Then they will shop for you, bag them up and bring them to your car. Surely you will feel as if you are getting your money’s worth if they do all the work for you then.

      • This works so well at my Walmart store, that I haven’t been in the store for almost a year. They will substitute that’s your choice. You get the lower price if they do and you can refuse it too. The produce is always the best that they have. It’s an absolutely great experience.

      • Not everyone owns a computer, add to that, I like to see for myself what I am purchasing as I will pick the freshest items displayed. I am fortunate to still be able to drive and load my own groceries into the car. I do very much appreciated when a store has hired teens or retirees to bag groceries for customers.

  • Great ideas, thank you! Our local stores no longer allow bringing your own bags due to Covid. Also, because I am now retired and have more time than I used to, I like to think I am helping keep someone on the job by standing in line a bit longer and allowing a cashier to check out my groceries.

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