Home Depot’s Self-Checkout Doesn’t Work

Self-checkout kiosks have been appearing in various stores over the last couple of years. Businesses believe they can save money by having one employee monitor mulyiple registers. Customers are sold these as a convenience.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  1. You place all of your items on the input tray
  2. While there are items on the input tray {
    • you scan an item
    • you place that item in the bag or on the output tray
  3. }

  4. You pay

An employee monitors the console of all four self-serve checkouts in the event the customer’s having a problem — for example, they’ve selected produce that doesn’t have a sticker. This happens all the time to me with tomatillos.An unstated, but equally significant reason is to watch for a customer surreptitiously slipping an extra item into their bag. Items are also weighed on both the input and output side. The system assumes you’ll put the item scanned in the bag before scanning another. If there are any discrepancies, the system squawks and signals the employee. In grocery stores, self-checkout is usually limited to ten or fewer items.

A business’ potential savings is the three cashiers it doesn’t need to allocate. Assuming a checker made $10.00 per hour (including benefits), and there are three positions displaced, that’s a theoretical windfall of $60k per year.
The customer potentially benefits from a quicker transaction. There’s also a use case where you’re purchasing an item that you feel you may be morally judged in some bizarre manner: Preparation H, tampons, bikini-area hair removal cream, Cosmo, bubble gum flavored ice cream, or whatever.

An unintended customer benefit is not being subjected to potential impulse buys while waiting in line. How many of us have bought a bag of Skittles or batteries because they were right there in front of us while we were waiting? My kids are uncanny in their ability to zoom in on the most unhealthy sugar pseudo-food at the 3′ level. There’s none of that in the self-checkout area.

Fred Meyer and QFC, both owned by the Kroger mega grocery chain, have self-serve registers available. They work okay, though certain items like tomatillos consistently require manual intervention. Given our distance from Mexico, I suppose this is understandable. I usually favor for the human register unless it’s Eric’s, which will drive me to the machine every time. Eric is… well, a polynimrod. For example, last time I went through his line, he asked me how my day was going three times during the checkout process. For fun, I changed the answer the third time.

PCC, a natural foods store, is the most pleasant to shop at, despite being the most expensive. The employees are knowledgeable, and the cashiers work at least six months in the store. PCC has no self-serve kiosks, nor do I ever expect them to.

So now, amid PR, Home Depot has begun installing self-checkout kiosks. Meanwhile, they’re closing down many the human checkout lines in order to drive traffic to self-checkout. Based on several trips to Home Depot, I’ve concluded that they do not work.

The fundamental problem with Home Depot’s implementation of self-serve checkout is there are huge variances among the items’ sizes, shapes, and weights. For example, a recent purchase included a 5 gallon container of paint, a plastic putty knife, an 8′ baseboard, and two 3/16” hexagonal nuts. I scanned the paint and plopped it on the output tray. I followed up with the putty knife and put it in the bag. While I attempted to scan the third item, the register self-immobilizes itself, seemingly convinced that I’m attempting to shoplift as it chides me to put the item in the bag or rescan it.

What’s happened is the paint weighs about 60 pounds while the putty knife is less than an ounce. The scale doesn’t have the precision to deal with that, and the register system gets confused. When you think about it, Home Depot is much different use case than the grocery store because most groceries fit in the cart and are designed to be handled by normal people like, say, soccer moms.

In a grocery store, the employee would be paying attention. However at Home Depot, there are usually three or four yakking among themselves. (I think they could be betting on how many items I’ll get through.) I’ve gone through this register abyss enough times that I just immediately go ballistic until someone opens another register or manually rings up whatever it is I’m trying to get through.

The store employees know the self-serve registers are a problem. I’ve also called the Home Depot corporate headquarters in Atlanta. The customer relations person did the deer in headlights routine, but when pressed, conceded the system was still new.

Home Depot is very conveniently located to my house, but because of the difficulty in paying for things, I’ve been channeling more of my home improvement business at Lowe’s. (I’m sufficiently out in the ‘burbs that finding specialty stores for everything is very inconvenient. One exception was when I needed washers to fix a faucet. Neither HD nor Lowe’s was able to help me find the one for my specific faucet.)

On another tangent, last month I saw A&E’s biography on Home Depot. The show detailed the store’s history from founding by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank through the hiring of Nardelli. I wanted to find some more background information, and visited A&E’s Biography site.

There are two things I hate about this site. First, their homepage is wholly dependent upon Macromedia Flash. Admittedly, I am still a little stuck in the 80s — but not enough that I’d tell jokes in or about binary — and find Flash-based navigation to be a distraction. It’s a high crime against user interface when there’s no option to skip the animation to view the site. After all, Flash is a plugin.

The second thing that bothers me about the site is how horrid their search mechanism is. What do you think you’d find if you typed “Home Depot” in the A&E search engine? go ahead and try it, I’ll wait. Think that’s an anomaly? Try looking up Arthur Blank or Bernie Marcus.

I couldn’t find them, either. Google has spoiled us all.

37 thoughts on “Home Depot’s Self-Checkout Doesn’t Work”

  1. I have only used Home Depot’s self-scan machines on one occasion, and I think that was for some knobs, but I can see your point that it may not be the best solution for them.

    On the other hand, I have become addicted to the self-scanners at Fred Meyer and find myself becoming aggitated when I have to wait in line while some clueness newbie needs to have the cashier/babysitter come and rescue them on every other item. At one of the Fred stores here in the PDX area they have even expanded the self-scans to allow for unlimited items, and put in larger scale /loading areas.

  2. I disagree with you, Jim. I think Home Depot’s works well, because it’s somewhat self-regulating. In other wards, someone who takes an hour to write their check for $1.12 in plumbing supplies probably won’t use the self-checkout lines. So it works well for me, because I’m pretty mobile and anxious to get out of there.

    Having said that, I’m a home improvement snob. I use Lowes (mainly) and Rockler (for specialty stuff).

  3. I agree with Jim – Home Depot just wasted my lunch hour for me. I told the clerk twice I needed assistance, and she looked at me like I was telling her to have a nice day. No idea why the machine and the clerk malfunctioned (could she be part of the machine, an android maybe?) I left everything there and will just go to Lowes from now on.

  4. I totally agree with Jim,
    The problem is with it’s item size limits & very small order limits as well. It would be just fine if they omitted the scale weight check portion, therefore odd shaped items (like mini blinds) wouldn’t have an error every single time. Also, because of the small baggage area a couple of larger items that don’t fit on the little scale section all at once always trigger problems too. Well, I’m off to Lowes…

  5. 1..we purchased MICROWAVE AND SERVICE CONTRACT 7/5/06 TO BE DELIVERED TO STORE ON 7/15.
    2..WE GET CALL ON 7/6 FROM ???? SAYING WILL BE DELIVERED TO STORE ON 7/7..
    3..FUNERAL ON 7/7.
    4..GO TO STORE ON 7/8..THEY DID NOT CALL, DECLARE THAT NO ONE FROM STORE OR VENDOR/JOBBER CALLED OUR UNLISTED NUMBER.THEY WOULD INVESTIGATE THAT DAY AND CALL US..
    5..THEY NEVER DID CALL BACK
    6..SENT EMAILS TO THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICE ON SATURDAY/MONDAY ,7/8&7/10..DID NOT RECEVE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.
    7..CALLED CUST SERVICE ON 7/11, STRUGGLED WITH ONE FOREIGN SPEAKING SERV REP..COULD NOT UNDERSTAND HIM. HUNG UP..GOT A PERSON MORE FLUENT IN ENGLISH..WAS ON PHONE 45 MINS..THEY CUT ME OFF..
    8 I THINK THAT WHEN THE ITEM IS FINALLY DELIVERED, I WILL CANCEL THE ORDER.
    HOME DEPOT HAS GOTTEN SOOO BIG, THEY DO NOT HAVE TO BE CUSTOMER CONSCIOUS ANY MORE…
    THEIR ON LINE CUST SERV IS TOTALLY USELESS AND THEIR PHONE HELP IS THE SAME..ANY OF THEIR STORE ASSOCIATES WITH AN OUNCE OF BRAINS HAD BETTER FIND A NEW PLACE TO WORK..

    THE REAL CRIME IS THAT SOME UNKNOWN PERSON GOT ACCESS TO MY UNLISTED PHONE NUMBER, THE PRODUCTS I PURCHASED AND MORE THAN LIKELY, MY HOME DEPOT CREDIT CARD NUMBER AND THE NUMBSKULLS FROM CORPORATE ON DOWN HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS HAPPENED..

  6. I agree with Jim. Yesterday I was in line at the self-check out with only pipe fasteners and a dishwasher water supply hose in hand. The supply hose was sealed and its barcode was easily read because it was against a carboard backing. Since the shape of the fasteners were rounded, it was difficult to scan the darn thing. I then proceeded to unpeel the barcode label to try and straighten it out, only to tear it in half. Try looking up the item. There’s like a ton of items on that darn list. Talk about more time-consuming. I then asked the clerk to help scan the item for me, but all he did was brush me off while he attended his “Traffic-cop” duties attending to the other customers suffering from the same peril. Finally after waiting for a forever-long 4 minutes or so, he was able to scan the item by using the hand-held scanner (which actually did a better scanning job than what the machine did). There were only 2 lines opened, one being the “Contractors” line. The other 6 or so lines have always been closed since I can remember ever first stepping into that store. I can’t understand why all the employees standing around would’nt even open up an extra line to accomodate the huge line forming behind me. It seems as if though they were strictly instructed to stand around and make like a tree while customers patiently suffered waiting in line. These self-checkout lines are useless, even for smallest items and evenly understandable for huge items that you can’t even fit on the stupid scale as well. These machines have got to go, human interaction is still the best way to go that way you feel more comfortable that someone is actually helping you right there on the spot and not also feel like you’ve been thrown out in the spotlight only to get wicked glares from the customers waiting behind you. The place that I enjoy shopping at is Orchard Supply Hardware where they actually still have “LIVE” checkout lines that help solve any problems for you. Lowes has more than 3 checkout stands opened, but seems like they’re relying too much now on the self-checkouts like what Home Depot is doing.

  7. I work at Home Depot and many times handle the self checkout area. Although I understand your misgivings with the machines themselves, I dont think you and your readers have any room to insult employees without working for at least one week at a HD store. If you knew the basics of the Front End, you would understand that we can’t just “open another register” whenever some customer whines that he’s been waiting for an ungodly 4 minutes. Also, when a customer walks up to Self Checkout with a cart full of lumber and items having no price tag and stands there expectantly, waiting for assistance, this adds extra minutes to YOUR waiting time. We ALL have been in lines before; we ALL feel your pain. Sheesh.

  8. hi jim your so so right about the scale on home depot
    what you have to do is as i discovered accidentaly one day (ticked at home despot )is
    throw the light objects into the bag on the scale it cause the scale to sense there is an objecton it. as the scale settles
    it conferms the weight change and voila it check it in works right down to smalllll stuff 3/8 bolts but dont touch scale till your all done fill one bag and double bag it after you have paid and do let the heavy paint cans settle for the same resons . is really fast once you get the hang of and yes it works on all the ity bitty things to just throw them a little harder

  9. Former H.D. Employee

    Unfortunately, Cindy (September 15th, 2006 at 3:41 am) In reference to your comment…I’ve also worked at a Home Depot store in Alaska, and I’m worked retail several other places, and for you to have come on a site like this and give your name and say that you worked for Home Depot and react to the customers comments the way you did is ridiculous. Regardless of how the customer feels, you shouldn’t have opened your mouth. You have no idea what customer service really is, especially if you feel that it’s okay for you to talk to the customers this way, regardless of whether you’re off the clock or not. The way you wrote your message is inexcusable, and if I could find out what store you worked at and send it to your Up Front Supervisor I would. You don’t deserve to bleed orange.

  10. Former H.D. Employee

    Now, in reference to the rest of the comments about S.C.O. I agree whole heartedly. I feel, personally that they were a waste of money in our store in Alaska. No one wanted to use them beacuse of bad experiences at other stores in the Valley with Self Check registers. And looking at it from the employee stand point…the guys that put them in took out four of our registers, that’s three people at any given time that can’t work because there’s no where for them to be now. Four people were laid off right after they went in, and I left because my hours were cut so short that I couldn’t pay my bills.
    Now from a customer’s stand point…I would rather have someone else ring me up at the store, purely for the fact that the self check registers are more trouble than they’re worth. You can get a quicker response from a normal cashier trying to find a UPC or SKU for a product than you can waiting for a self check Cashier because they have three other stations to monitor and can’t stop everything they’re doing to help you like a normal cashier can.
    The major problem with being able to get SKUs and price checks actually comes from the people on the floor though. The floor associates have caller ID on the in-house phones, and when they see that they’re receiving acall from a register up front, they just don’t answer it.
    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is everyone…please be patient with your cashiers…they can only do so much because they can’t leave their registers. We got in huge trouble for that. It’s the people on the floor that need the lashings. Although some of the Up Front crew…people like Cindy here, need to be gotten rid of.

  11. I am (was) a long time (15 years) Home Depot customer and this store has gone steadily downhill since the original founders retired and that geek Nardelli took over. He’s been canned but it will take HD some time to “remember” that the customers pay the rent. I have used the self checkout many times at HD and every single time the machine’s scale closes the register down. The employees don’t even bother walking over, they just reset the machine from thier computer terminal. Contrast this to Wal-Mart’s self checkout machine that allows the customer to turn off the scale. I have used Wal-Mart’s machines with no problems 98% of the time.

    By the way, at one time many years ago HD advertised that their employees were former trades people with extensive knowldege that could benefit customers. Nardelli and the housing boom took care of that, they are gone. I now go to my local plumbing supply house and lumber yard, pay a few cents more, and get excellent advice and instruction.

    Oh, by the way, don’t even get me started on the dumb return policy. I returned a $5 item a few months ago and was not only interogated but had to provide my drivers license. I understand this is meant to detect fraud but I don’t feel I need to provide a drivers license and credit card to make a return on a $5 item I purchased earlier in the day (10 minutes earlier and I realized I bought the wrong model).

  12. Okay, I’m defending my company once again. Not all stores suck as badly as the one that Jim shops at. Now I’ve been in some pretty bad ones and spoken to the store manager myself before leaving just to get my point across. I hold my staff to very high standards, and I would have to say that with the exception of a few of my associates…most of the people that work at my store actually do know what they’re talking about. Now I may be fairly new to the company and very young…but in my own defense like I said I have worked other places and had worse co-workers than those I have at The Home Depot.
    Reguarding the return policy…I personally apoligize for the hassle you had because if the item was bought on a credit card and you didn’t still have your reciept they shouldn’t have asked you for ID because the charge would have gone back on the card. Now if you did have the receipt and it was paid for on a credit card, they shouldn’t even have asked to see the card. I would recommend calling the store you purchased the item at, (each store’s number is listed at the top of the reciept along with the store number) and speak with the store manager and tell him/her what happened and how you feel about the store because if the management doesn’t know what’s going on it can’t be fixed. You can also find a website with a survey, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million and one times, but the survey really does work. If you have a bad experience take note of the associates name and report them either in the free comment area or to the store manager by phone or in person. You may not think so, but the comments that we recieve from our customers, especially about bad customer service and failure to follow procedure as directed by S.O.P. are taken very seriously. The offender is reprimanded once, written up the second time, and the third time they are let go.
    So again, I apologize sincerely for our other stores misgivings and hope that your experiences with one store don’t further your poor opinion of the company.

  13. Another HD Employee

    First let me say that I side mostly with the customer complaints about S.C.O. at Home Depot. I too regularly run a SCO register at Home Depot and I understand where they(the customers) are coming from. Home Depot, in my opinion, does not benefit from a SCO register the way other stores benefit for one reason. The products that they sell. Scanning a can of beans or a pack of soda is not the same as scanning a lawn mower or a cart of lumber. This is obvious, but several problems arise due to this fact. First, many of the items that we sell have anti-theft devices that are not deactivated by the SCO register, despite the fact that the SCO register is suppose to do this automatically. When a customer sets the alarm off at the door, a cashier must respond to this alarm to find out what set it off. This takes time away from helping customers on the SCO register. Secondly, most of the products that we sell simply do not fit on the scale. Even though these products can be scanned by the cashier running SCO, they are usually so busy dealing with the chaos unfolding around them, that it takes some time to get to any given customer needing help. Now, add in to this fray the fact that customers passing by SCO are routinely asking the SCO cashier to call for help in a department because they are the first person they’ve seen in an orange apron since entering the store, and it doesn’t take long before you have an enviroment where tempers are flaring and ‘murder’ looks are being handed out like candy on Halloween night. The truth is that customers deserve better than this. It is truly aggravating to be yelled at by a machine or to be herded through a lane of SCO registers like cattle at the stockyard. So I have this to say to customers. Utilize that survey that you see at the bottom of your receipt. Your complaints go directly to the store manager, as well as the district manager of that particular store, and you are often entered into a drawing for a high dollar gift card for doing it. Also, you do not have to use SCO if you do not want to. The SCO register has a full service register built into it that is run by the SCO cashier. You can always ring up there if you like. Lastly, but not least, please be patient with the cashier that is helping you. Chances are, they have been cursed at and yelled at all day long, by customers and managers alike. Although there is often only one cashier on the front end, that cashier is not up there alone by choice. They are trying to run five registers at once if you include the full service register, and this is not easy to do especially if they are being yelled at. If you receive bad service while in the store, don’t hesitate to tell a manager before you leave. Hopefully this helps.

  14. I too, a former employee and Sco register trained associate from home depot; Now working for its competitor in the blue box the better, see a great deal of frustration to the customer. I must add to make sure you always take your change. Not the kind that spills in the cup, but the $$$ at the tray below. Working the SCO registers, customer’s get frustrated that things are not working out well for them, and by the time the customer has paid, he has done forgot about the change left over from his $100.00 bill that he put in for his $5.95 purchase. Policy states for the cashier to place the money in with the checks and stubs in the register that the money was left behind. But from hearing from fellow workers, $90.00 on top of pay is a good day working at the self check out. When the customer comes back 20-40 minutes later who’s to say the cashier didnt it when the next cash paying customer came through.

  15. Great stuff. My experience is this. I like the idea of self service. It’s great. I can get in and out quickly. Atleast that was the case when they were new and no one used them. I first saw them at an airline and it saved me alot of standing in line time.

    Then Home Depot got them. OK at first, but I noticed things. They are not very convinent. They don’t read very well, they beep quickly but specify the item info about 15 seconds after you scan (when, if your lucky, your scanning your third item), and constantly locking up to say you removed some item. I also find the user interface scattered all over. Initiate scanning and transactions here, pay there, get your recipt over there, collect change some place inconvient or choose from a dizying array of payment options if using some sort of plastic.

    Last night I went back and should have known. It was raining and a tuesday, probably not the best time to go as customers would be few and that means clearks would be scarce. Sure enough No lights were on at any register. THe one person at a register asked if it was credit or debit. I puzzling said yeah and he replied good since he has no cash for change. I responded,”Oh, and what are my options if it was cash?” and he pointed to the self check out. Now, for a bit of background, last time I tried to push a cart(not the shopping cart, but the larger ones)through self checkout I got chastised for attempting such a feat. But what did I really expect? Anyways after waiting 10 minutes for the guy to finish ring up the current customer and the empty self checkouts beckoning me, I headed the call complete with my irrigation system comprising of about 50 small parts that refused to scan. And The whole time about 4-6 employees apparently complete with all their other duties(which didn’t include the register), must have been beating on me to fail.

    Yes, I think HD is my last resort from this point forward. I’ll pay a bit more for the conveniences, or drive the the extra few miles to Lowes. What a shame

    Thanks for sharing, and listening.
    Tom

  16. HD is the only store I’ve even been at where an employee went off to find some information for us and, after waiting some time, we had to track that person down because they totally forgot about us.

  17. My most recent project was to replace an old electrical wire going to my garage with a larger current capacity 220v line. I stop by HD, pick through the bundled wire selection, find what looks like it would work for me. I pick up the bundle wrapped in plastic and place it in my cart. I look for the price on the shelving and on the packaging and notice that there isn’t any labelling whatsoever. There was a torn piece of plastic wrap with a barcode and a small piece of paper with a barcode, both on the shelf near the bundle’s original location. I picked them up too, thinking the cashier could sort it out. Off to the lumber section to pick up a couple small pieces of wood. Now I’m ready to pay. At the front of the store there was one “regular” checkout counter with 3 customers and carts waiting in line. My other option, self-service checkout. No problem, I’ve used them before and there were 3 of the 4 registers open. I push my cart on up, ring up the wood, then comes the bundle o’ wire. It appeared that the plastic wrap more closely matched the packaging on the wire. I scanned it, placed the wire on the bagging counter, and… you guessed it, “Please wait for cashier assistance.” Good, someone will come and help me figure out the right price. Nope, the message was cleared, so I paid with my debit card. I placed the items in my cart and pushed it towards the exit. About five feet before I get to the doors, “Excuse me, sir!” Yep, I now face criminal charges for “switching price tags” HD’s loss prevention insisted that I didn’t want to pay the full price. I realize I could have been more proactive in making sure I was paying the right price, however, if HD’s LP saw my apparent confusion, mistaking it for intentional, when selecting the bundled wire and the barcodes – why in the hell didn’t anyone offer assistance?

    The next day I went to Lowes and bought the same damn wire for a slightly higher price.

  18. I worked at HD corporate when SCO rolled out. It was really a good idea and worked very good in the beginning, but they switched to another vendor just before the rollout and all the team members quit. They never rehired the original team and only a couple of people are still there today. Even the CEO (Nardelli) didn’t believe in SCO and almost didn’t approve it. The original company that made the system work was the U-Scan and they are pretty much in all of the grocery stores these days. Everything was fine with U-Scan because they pretty much invented SCO and were way ahead of everybody else out there. After they switched to the other version, everything when down hill. That’s why there are so many problems there today. The other thing Home Depot did was that they quit managing the systems. They had hundreds of lanes out of service every day and really didn’t do anything to help the poor stores out. The same company that sold them the lanes provided the service and did a really bad job of keeping them running. Home Depot didn’t help either because these started cutting cashier hours (they said they were putting more people on the sales floor, but I never saw it happen) and as everybody knows, when you shop there, the cashiers are few and far between. Turnover is really high and it’s just a shame that the good cashiers that stick it out and stay there really don’t get treated fairly. There are great stores, managers, front-end supervisors and cashiers still out there, but they are also few and far between. Maybe with the new minimum wage increase coming, the cashiers will also get a bump up. If this new Blake guy sticks around (probably not, he’s a GE guy too) they will recover – who knows.

    I shop a Lowes anyway. They seem to have better products and are in stock most of the time. Cant say that about Home Depot anymore. The new motto at Home Depot is “You can do it, and we’ll watch ya”. They should have stuck with “Low Prices are just the beginning” – at least it was the truth back when the company really took care of customers. Not the “GE Way” I guess.

  19. I am so sick of the self-service kiosks at the HD. Typically, at least at the HD that I frequent in Methuen Mass, there is a single attendant servicing 6-8 self-service registers. Invariably, this attendant is stuck with another customer that needs help, so if you run into an issue, you will be there a while. Additionally, you cannot get cash back from any of these self service stations. Even more frustrating Is the fact that stores never have more than a single register open with an attendant. The line at this register is always long. Last night I went in to pick up some plumbing fittings. It took less than 5 minutes to get my fittings and go to checkout. Once there, I was one of twelve people standing in line to pay. The line at this register looked like the food market the day before Thanksgiving. The checkout process took 15 minutes. Lines were also long at the self-service kiosk. I went to the same store on Saturday and same thing, only one line open. Later in the day I needed more parts and refused to go back to HD because of this one register policy. I, without hesitation, drove to Rocky’s Ace hardware, knowing that I would pay 25% more for what I needed, just so that I didn’t have to waste my time standing in the endless lines at the HD. If this trend continues, I will drive a few miles further to Lowes or, will continue to frequent Ace Hardware. Wake up HD. Your consumers are getting sick and tired of your lines.

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