As if self-checkouts weren’t divisive enough already. Never mind if you like them or hate them, but you’d better not try to sneak a few extra items past the posted limit – because more stores just aren’t having it anymore.

ShopRite has become the latest retailer to crack down on how many items you’re allowed to scan yourself in its stores. “The updated checkout policy is a 20-item limit for all self-checkout terminals,” a customer service representative told Coupons in the News. “Any shopping order exceeding 20 items must be completed at a register with a cashier.”

The newly-enforced rule comes on the heels of Target’s test of a “10 items or fewer” limit at some of its stores’ self-checkouts, “in order to reduce wait times and better understand guest preferences,” a company spokesperson explained earlier this month.

ShopRite, which is made up of more than 300 independently-owned stores in six Northeastern states, first tested self-checkouts way back in 1988. As the technology improved, it began installing self-checkouts in all of its stores a dozen years later. Back then, the machines were intended for people with small orders who wanted to get in and get out quickly. “Having self-checkout there to kind of supplement staff is where they come in handy for customers coming in to buy a half-gallon of milk,” a ShopRite spokesperson told New Jersey’s Courier News at the time.

Over time, though, self-checkouts at ShopRite and other retailers got larger and more prominent, to the point that there are often more open self-checkout stations today than there are staffed checkout lanes. That turned what had been a customer convenience into a customer annoyance for many, who weren’t interested in being their own cashier and resented having little choice in the matter.

Or no choice. Two years ago, ShopRite’s half-dozen stores in Delaware began replacing most of their staffed checkout lanes altogether with more self-checkouts. “The decision to convert to self-checkout/fast lanes at our six stores was driven by customer demand for the amenity and our goal to provide the best possible checkout experience,” a ShopRite spokesperson explained at the time. While the retailer “understand(s) the importance of the human touch and personal service,” the spokesperson went on, “we embrace technology that helps our customers have a better shopping experience.”


There was no 20-item limit then. You could have had 200 items, and you’d have little choice but to scan and bag everything yourself.

Neither ShopRite nor Target has fully explained the rationale behind their more strictly-enforced limits. The changes come amid increasing concerns about retail theft, which is easier to pull off when thieves are scanning – or “forgetting” to scan – their own items. But the shift could also be due to a self-checkout backlash, as those customers who are just “coming in to buy a half-gallon of milk” find themselves cooling their heels behind families with full shopping carts taking their sweet time scanning their own items.

ShopRite has already reversed its all-self-checkout experiment in Delaware. Just last month, stores in the state sent mailers to shoppers saying, “you asked, we listened.” In response to customer complaints, and “with labor shortages beginning to ease now, we are adding back full-service lanes,” a ShopRite spokesperson said.

But you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Some shoppers who have encountered ShopRite’s new 20-item self-checkout limit aren’t happy about it. “Makes no sense because most of the people have more than 20 items,” one shopper wrote on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor. Another complained that there was only one staffed checkout lane open during a recent visit, and “I got scolded by two workers who indicated 20 items for self checkout. I had 22 and the entire machine shut down.” Another shopper who “had 21 items” was told about the new limit and “told the manager, then get more cashiers. No one has time to be at ShopRite for hours.”

“We continue to recruit and hire new team members,” the ShopRite customer service representative told Coupons in the News. In the meantime, “self-service checkouts help us keep our wait times reasonable.”

Just as long as the number of items you take to self-checkout is considered “reasonable” as well. And depending on where you shop, that definition just might be changing.

Image source: ShopRite

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