7 Self-Checkout Secrets Grocery Store Clerks Wish You Knew

Updated: Jul. 20, 2024

Sail through checkout with these helpful tips.

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Little girl is at the self service checkout of the supermarket with her father.

Want to master the self-checkout? Here’s how.

Self-checkout machines reduce the number of cashiers needed in a grocery store, but they still require an attendant to watch over customers. If you’ve ever found yourself being rescued from time to time because you did something the machine didn’t like, then keep on reading to learn how to sail out of the grocery store without having to call over the attendant. They’ll thank you for it.

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Reusable canvas grocery bag with red and yellow tomatoes and spinach.
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Press the “I brought my own bags” button.

Reusable bags are a great thing. Please continue to use them when you shop. But be aware of the procedures for using them at the self-checkout. Most machines have an “I brought my own bag” button that you should push before placing them in the bagging area. Otherwise, it thinks you aren’t paying for certain items and an attendant needs to verify that you’re not shoplifting.

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Woman In Grocery Aisle Of Supermarket With Coupons
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Skip the self-checkout if you have coupons.

If you have a pile of coupons with you, it may be best to go to the regular checkout aisle since many stores require an attendant to come over and verify your coupons, sometimes even entering them in themselves. This can slow you down and offset any time you’d save by using the self-checkout.

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Fresh green golden delicious apple with brand sticker on a wooden table in soft focus on August 2017 in Poznan, Poland
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Punch in the PLU code.

When buying produce, customers typically look up the item by name. But it’s easy to second guess yourself when scrolling through all the different types of apples and tomatoes, especially if you picked up something different from the norm because it was on sale. If you spent extra time hunting for the best deal, it’d be a shame to miss out on it because you entered in the wrong item. It’s much easier to punch in the PLU code. Just enter the 4- or 5-digit code and boom, the machine knows exactly what you’re purchasing.

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Smiling salesman putting vegetables in bag for customer after billing
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Scan in the order you want to bag.

If there’s a long line at the self-checkout, some people feel anxious and rush through it. This can cause mistakes which need an attendant’s help. One thing that can help bagging go smoother is to scan items in the same order you would bag them in. So, boxes, cans and other heavy items first. You’ll also want to bag similar items together (like all the frozen foods). Psst: When you’re shopping, fill your cart in bagging groups.

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close up of woman with food at grocery store
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Set items in the bagging area (even if you don’t bag them).

Weight is a very important factor at the self-checkout. Most machines use an item’s weight to determine that what you bought is truly what you said you bought. It’s a way to prevent shoplifting. So, even if you don’t need a bag to carry your chips or soda, it’s still necessary to place it in the bagging area after it’s been scanned.

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Man pushing shopping cart full of food in the supermarket aisle.
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Skip it if you have more than 20 items.

Self-checkout is convenient when you’re only buying a few items. The more items you have, the longer it takes, the more likely you’ll make mistakes and the longer the line in back of you will be. If you want a smoother experience at checkout, let the professionals handle your big shopping trips. They’re happy to do so.

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happy couple buying food at grocery store or supermarket self-service cash register
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Use your shopping buddy to your advantage.

If you’re shopping with your partner or a pal, work as a team to speed up checkout. It usually works well when one person unpacks the items from the cart and the other scans and bags. Just be sure you aren’t getting in each other’s way and bagging foods while someone else scans. That can confuse the machine and, you guessed it, call someone over.

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