Which is better – Express Lanes or Self Check Out at Target?

target checkout

“Dear PoPville,

Forget about seeing a cashier at the Columbia Heights Target.

Target in Columbia Heights has recently installed self-checkout. Now after the self-checkout addition 5 out of my last 6 visits I noticed the express checkout is closed even during the peak use of 5-6 PM during the week. I’ve had to self-checkout.

The express lane similar to the express lane at Whole Foods was extremely fast and successful. The self-checkout is slow and has the typical equipment error issues and slower lines. Some CVS stores recently got rid of their self-checkout for that reason and theft. Target had even expanded the express section of checkout over the last year because it was successful. So why the recent change?

Being a curious individual I asked a manger why this change happened. Her response was first this was a request form the customers. Well this customer requests a return to the old way.

Then after continuing the conversation she said “this allows us (Target) to keep less employees on the floor.” Directly decreasing the number of jobs needed on any given shift. In a community where jobs are needed and customer is always appreciated Target is directly decreasing the number of staff by their mangers admission. It is curious that this change also allows them to reduce the number of employees in advance of an increased minimum wage. Looks like Target found a way around that. Now only if they used that staff to keep their shelves stocked….”

40 Comment

  • The express was fast (and I’ve almost always seen it running in tandem to self check out), but I’m pretty quick with the self checkout so no complaints.
    You can keep making the argument for taking work away from people with these “machines”, but I’m pretty sure there’s still work out there to build, invent, manufacture, trouble shoot and fix those machines.

  • Ack — if you’re worried about automation of jobs and focusing on self-checkout lanes, that war’s already been lost.

    As far as what this Target needs… more lanes open in general. Express, self-checkout, whatever. I don’t think customers wanted self-checkout at the cost of closing other lanes, because it’s always a mess there.

  • I wonder if you are a proponent of dramatically increasing minimum wage? This is a consequence of increasing labor costs, and you are likely to see much more automation in stores in the future, particularly as governments increase the amount of wage they feel appropriate.

  • The lines are such a mess now during peak times. The express and self check-out all blend into one line, which are hard to distinguish from the lines for the regular registers. The whole remodel itself seems poorly planned.

  • Am I the only one who detests self-checkout? Often when I’m in CVS it’s seemingly the only line that’s open.

    I’m already paying for the items, now you’re going to make me scan and bag them too? I say this half-sarcastically.

    • I also hate the self-checkout and won’t use it, in general.

      CVS is sometimes an exception; if I only have a few things I’ll use the self-checkout.

      It’s not that I hate technology but I find that the self checkout is too loud and bossy – it yells at me too much, in particular at Safeway.

      • If you turn the wrong way and your purse bumps the one side of the machine, it sets off an alarm and thinks you’ve put something extra in your bag. If you try and put the item you’ve purchased into your purse, it sets off an alarm and thinks you’ve stolen something. It doesn’t understand when you bring your own bags. It doesn’t understand when you use the store bags. It won’t let you use coupons. It shouts at you. So no, I do not like the self check out.

      • The CVS ones seem to work better than the grocery store ones.

    • Agreed. I can’t stand self-checkout. I want to second the other comments here about heading out to Potomac Yards. Yes, as a DC resident I hate spending my money in another state, but CoHi’s Target is just terrible.

      Look, if you want me to use self-checkout, thereby saving you money, then I had better get some sort of discount. If I wanted to bag my own products, I’d work at Target. I don’t, so I don’t.

      • Interesting. I actually work within walking distance of Potomac Yards and I wouldn’t have occurred to me to go there.

        • I always went to the Target in Potomac Yard before the one in Columbia Heights opened… and I still probably go there more often than the Columbia Heights one, especially if I’m planning to get more than a bag or two of stuff.
          .
          Thinking about going to the Columbia Heights Target always give me a feeling of dread and makes me ask myself, “Do I really have to go there? Can I put it off?”

          • I live in Capitol Hill so even if I didn’t work here the Potomac Yards would be easier to get to. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to the CH one, actually.

      • +1 on the idea about getting a discount for using the awful self-checkouts!

  • Target’s in the business of making its shareholders (of which I am one) money, not employing people in high-risk area. I’d be thrilled if we could be more efficient with our workforce.

    • I am sure they have done studies on this, but I am curious as to whether the reduced wages they pay with self checkout is greater than the amount of merchandise they lose to increased theft. I think this is especially true in urban areas. Not only that, but how many people refuse to go to stores where they always have huge lines and tons of unmanned checkouts because the store doesn’t want to pay for an extra cashier. When you look under the hood I don’t think these cost saving measures lead to increased profits.

      • I too wonder how often folks slip stuff through the lines somehow without paying. The GA Ave Safeway employee is often chatting with someone else and no where near her stand at the end of the line. Would seem pretty easy to sneak items here and there.
        (and, therefore, i support more staffed lines)

  • Amen! From where I live on the edge of Bloomingdale/Shaw, I can usually get down to the Target in Potomac Yards more quickly than the CH one, I don’t have to pay for parking or spend 10 minutes driving through the garage looking for a space, they usually have 10 or so registers open at a time (during off-peak hours you can usually walk right up to a register, and even on the weekends or during the holidays I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than 5 minutes or so), and the store isn’t a total $hit-$how.

    • +1,000 to all of those points! (Except that I actually live closer to the CH one than to the Potomac Yard one.)
      .
      And the bags are free! (I always reuse free bags as bathroom trash bags.)

  • This! Target in DC is like Walmart anywhere else. I’ve never seen another Target so cluttered and disorganized with employees so disinterested. I will acknowledge though that over the last couple of months it seems like they’ve been making a bit of an effort

  • I prefer self check out in stores where customer service is like a four letter word (CVS, Walmart etc). I’m always 10 times faster and I get to avoid their interaction. Places like Whole Foods I prefer an express lane. This Target falls under the former

  • I knew they made the move to self-checkout for money. The express lanes worked. Even with the self-checkout lanes open, the line moves much more slowly and people seem incredibly flummoxed when using them (when they are working).

    I’d vote for a return to express lanes, but realistically with the move to higher minimum wage laws in the District, I know this won’t happen.

  • Every store has been trending towards more and more self checkout. The Giant down the street doubled the size of their self check section late last year.

    But to the part about jobs, why is it Targets responsibility to employ the larger than normal local population of people who can’t get other jobs? Target isn’t a jobs program.

    So while every retailer has been moving this direction, the city having mandated the highest minimum wage in the nation isn’t going to help things either. Those self checkout machines cost about $22K a piece, or about 6 months worth of salary and overhead for an employee making $15/hr.

    A one time investment, with minimal maintenance or upkeep versus having to hire and rely on lower skill employees, having to support the entire HR function for them etc. It is a no brainer for those jobs.

    Of course, we could outlaw those machines, or any imports of cheaper items from China and the result would be the price tags in all the stores would be increased by 30-40% the next day.

    • Customer service at the Columbia Heights Giant on Park Road, NW at the service desk is horrible. The staff is lacking social skills. I recently complained to the Giant manager and a senior VP in Landover, Maryland regarding the poor customer service and bad attitudes. I prefer shopping at Wegmans or Harris & Teeter because the staff is friendly.

  • I prefer the self checkout option whenever it is available whether Target, Home Depot, Walmart, Safeway etc. It is very convenient for me especially when you have just a handful of items.

  • I’m a bit surprised to hear they’ve installed self-checkout. CVS is getting rid of all of theirs due to theft (not sure if it’s nation wide or just DC). I guess Target did the calculation on $$ lost through theft at self-checkout and $$ spent on cashiers and customers lost due to long lines.

    All that said, I live 4 blocks away and avoid target if at all possible cause that corner is such a disaster.

    • Maybe CVS could have kept self checkout if the security guard they employ actually did anything other than play on their phone and chat up their friends in the store. I can’t imagine shopping there now, do they ever have more than one register open?

  • This sucks. I agree with OP that express lanes like the one at Whole Foods are terrific. When Target implemented its express lanes a year or two ago I was delighted. I hate self check-out so much; its clunky, frustrating and the technology cannot handle any little unexpected bump. I basically dont got to CVS anymore bc of self checkout. I hope Target will make changes that help customers get in and out of the store without a hassle.

  • The Target off of Rt. 50 by Seven Corners is heaven. I used to live in Pentagon City and would go there ALL the time. No lines, no drama, in and out in 15 minutes. I don’t have a car but when I get Zipcar this Target is the first stop.

    • The only problem with that one is Seven Corners. There might not be drama inside the store but once you step outside heaven help you.

      • My exact thoughts. Any time you save *in* the store will be lost several times over getting to/from it.

  • I recently visited and shopped at a Super Target in Southpoint Durham, North Carolina last weekend. I had a pleasant experience nothing like Columbia Heights Target madness. Also the Durham Super Target had an Optical department. The had the huge bottles of Cook’s champagne and the Korbel mini bottles of champagne. I guess having a Target in Columbia Heights D.C. is better than nothing.

    • On the subject of Targets outside DC (and admittedly tangential to the original post), I recently went to one in San Francisco’s financial district that was the strangest Target ever. It was designed as a “Target Express” small-format store, but was basically indistinguishable from a CVS or Walgreens except for having Target’s brands. The strangest part is that there is another “real” Target about 5 blocks away. I sort of get why they did it this way — there’s a ton of foot traffic during business hours at the small-format store, so why let Walgreens take that market? — but it still seemed strange. Just as an example, the front of the store had swimsuits and towels prominently displayed like the front of a regular Target does. But the size of the store is comparable to the Rite Aid on Connecticut Ave in Dupont

    • I have been to the Target that Dan mentions — I’ll have to explore it more thoroughly next time I’m in the area.

  • Is this a trick question. Answer is neither. No reason to go in a Target.

    • So… where do you get Target-type items? (Perhaps you order online and live in a place where package theft isn’t an issue?)

  • I thought I’d like the self-checkout more but both times I’ve been to the new self-checkout at the Columbia Heights Target the attendant has tried to line people up behind me when I’m not nearly finished, and it’s made me feel rushed and annoyed (and I’m pretty quick compared to most people). I miss the express lanes……

  • My customer service expectations are very low having lived in/around the neighborhood for a decade. Thus, I believe the self-checkout at Target is superior to the express checkout because I don’t have to deal with anyone. No interaction = no lackadaisical attitude, no stinkeye for interrupting socializing or smartphone use, or being made to feel like the cashier is doing me a favor if I ask for them to scan the reusable bag credit barcode on the register. That said, I’m grateful to have this store nearby and the remodel is an improvement.

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