England has always seemed to be quite advanced when it comes to supermarket technology. They had long, spacious, barcode-reading checkouts when I was 17 and worked in the frozen section of Waitrose. It wasn’t many years later before they introduced hand-held, customer-carried barcode readers so shoppers could check prices for themselves. People buying less then ten items have been able to go through an “express” checkout for years, and all that time, the checkout girls and boys have been allowed to sit down while they worked.
The typical Japanese supermarket checkout
Over here in Japan, things have been quite different. It’s still usual for the Japanese checkout to be short and narrow, with no space to pack your bags – you have to carry your basket of food to a seperate table and pack your things there. The staff usually stand up all day and bow at every customer who passes their cash register. It’s also very unlikely that you’ll find an “express” checkout (probably because most Japanese freezers won’t hold more than ten items anyway!).
Japanese self-service supermarket checkout
It was to our surprise then that when we went shopping at the AEON Jusco supermarket in Fuso, we found self-service cash registers for people with 10 items or less! I don’t know if the self-service checkout is already a common sight in the UK, but it’s new to me. Mami and I decided to give it a try.
Basically, you just hold each item in front of the barcode reader, just as the staff usually would, and you follow the instructions on the screen - all in Japanese I’m afraid. The computer keeps you informed visually and verbally of the cost of each item, and displays the total cost on the screen. When you’re done, you pack your bags right there and put your money in the machine. There seemed to be a few payment options, including cash and even credit card.
Security at the self-service checkout
Finally, when you’re done, you walk past a former checkout girl or boy, who thanks you and gives you a bow. Actually, they seem to be there to assist you if you need help, and also have a little command center where they can monitor the activity of all the self-service cash registers. When I asked how they’d find someone who chose not to declare some items to the almight barcode reader, they told me that such a thing hasn’t happened yet. I’ll assume that if it has happened, the sneaky shopper never got caught!