Self-service comes to AlbertsonsPhoto:1002436,left; |

Self-service comes to AlbertsonsPhoto:1002436,left;

Amanda Fehd

In an increasingly do-it-yourself world, Albertsons on Al Tahoe Boulevard has hopped on the bandwagon with four new self-checkout machines.

“We think it provides customers with the next-generation shopping experience,” said Mike Patton, the store’s director.

While stores throughout the country have started using self-checkout machines, Albertsons is the only place in Tahoe that has them, according to Patton. He refers to them as SCOT lanes, for Self Check Out Terminal.

The machines enable you to do it all yourself, including scanning items, keying in produce codes, paying and bagging. Many who were using the SCOT lanes Friday were visitors to Tahoe who had used them in stores in their own towns.

“It’s a piece of cake. I’ve used this at the Albertsons in the Bay Area. They have three or four people who hang out and hold your hand through the process. You really need that the first time,” said Bill Loewe, who is from Livermore.

Ryan Brucker, from Newport Beach, agreed.

“I like them. Because I’m in construction, I’ve used them at Home Depot and it’s pretty nice if you are just buying a light bulb or something. I’ve used them quite a bit,” Brucker said.

He admits he probably wouldn’t use them if he had a whole cartload of stuff – traditional checkout stands would be faster for that.

The machine speaks to you, in English or Spanish, as you check things out and gives you verbal directions on what to do next. For instance, you’ve put an apple on the checkout station, the machine will tell you to punch in the four-digit produce code or look up the item if it doesn’t have one.

The machines are equipped with very sensitive scales, which are designed to prevent error and theft. The scales know the weight of everything you’ve scanned, and will freeze if you put something on them that has not been scanned. The SCOTs also have cameras at each station.

Albertsons’ four machines are also manned by at least one checkout person at any time, who helps with any problems. For instance, the machines freeze when someone scans alcohol. The checkout person must clear your ID for you to continue.

It’s all designed to give customers more of a choice when it comes to shopping, Patton said. Although you can go in with as many items as you want, the SCOTs are ideal for the in-and-out shopper who doesn’t want to wait in line to check out just a few things.

“Other stores have one fast checkout lane; this gives us four,” said Patton.

But what about the people that used to do that job of checking out groceries and bagging? Some would contend the new machines mean fewer jobs.

According to Patton, that is “totally not true.”

“What we do with the hours that we save on the front end, we just reallocate those hours back in the store to give better customer service, whether it is somebody out on the sales floor helping somebody find items, or making sure production people get their jobs done,” Patton said, who explained that in the past, when the store was busy, people in other departments were recruited from their normal positions to help in checkout.

“The dairy clerk, the produce clerk, the receiving clerk, those people are now able to get their job done and have a better opportunity of keeping groceries on the shelves,” said Patton.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union did not return calls for comment. As the director of the store, Patton, along with three others, is exempt from participating in the union. The other 56 employees are part of the union.

Burnadette Santana, a checker, did not take exception to the machines, and said she has fun when it’s her shift to manage them.

“It’s fun. I have the opportunity to interact with more customers. At a regular checkout stand, I deal with one customer at a time. Here, it’s a lot more of a challenge, but it’s a lot more fun meeting that challenge.”

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