LEISURE

The Philippines just got its first grocery self-checkout counter

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With these self-checkout counters, you can expect faster trips to the grocery. Photo by JULI SUAZO

These days, grocery shopping responds to the evolving preferences of shoppers for a safer in-store experience. At the start of the lockdown, groceries manually limited the total number of people allowed at a time, minimizing interactions with employees and other customers. Around the world, other supermarkets have become more drawn to tech-based approaches. Supermarket chains have pivoted to digital storefronts with 24/7 delivery. Brick and mortar stores come together in online-grocery apps like MetroMart and Coop Grocer.

What I had discovered on my next visit to my neighborhood supermarket — which I frequent for days when I wasn’t going out mainly for groceries, but product discovery — is that they just had the Philippines’ first self-checkout counter.

Like most grocery shoppers, I have a rotation of two to three supermarkets. One of them welcomes me with a gigantic neon sign that reads “LIVE to EAT.” I like going here, primarily because of the shops near it — a Uniqlo and Mama Lou’s (their to-go is my go-to) — and they have my favorite Jules Destrooper biscuits that often escape me at the two other groceries I frequent.

Since physical distancing measures have been implemented due to the pandemic, supermarket chains around the world have pivoted to digital storefronts with 24/7 delivery. Photo by JULI SUAZO

Self-service has undoubtedly become a prevalent part of our world shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants are transforming their menus to be viewable by scanning QR codes. Banks encourage visiting clients to select the nature of their transaction through self-service terminals. Hotels are reinforcing self check-in when welcoming guests. Coffee shop chains are standardizing the practice of swipe-your-own payment methods. Now, the era of self-checkout has begun in the Philippines.

The self-checkout counter is simple to use. It follows an obvious three-step scheme: scan, pay, and pack. Photo by JULI SUAZO

The self-checkout counter is simple to use. It follows an obvious three-step scheme: scan, pay, and pack. The barcode reader is quick to pick up on serial numbers without any noticeable lag. Payment options (for now) include debit or credit cards processed through PayMaya in just a few taps. Paper bags of all sizes are available below the counter for bagging, with boxes available upon request.

Scanning, swiping, and bagging my purchases unaccompanied pardons me from any unwanted delays or socially imposed time pressure that come with a traditional staffed checkout. I enjoy my own company the most and more than a year of not being able to engage with other people face-to-face has deepened that. With the absence of any dependence on other people’s help, transacting my own groceries at a self-checkout counter reinforced the gratifying solitude and pleasure I found in doing things alone.

With these self-checkout counters, you can expect faster excursions to the grocery as you tend to your relatively short to-buy lists. On my second visit, I was in and out of the store in just 15 minutes, including the additional time it took me to fill out the online health declaration form. I completed my checklist of 10 items counting mangoes, kitchen towels, laundry detergent, liquid seasoning, antiseptic alcohol, AA batteries, and a few feminine care products in a completely contactless and unhurried manner.

Walking out, I watched people who arrived at the same time as me still lined up at the staffed checkout counters — which still remain, by the way, for the benefit of those who still lack the confidence to have a one-on-one transaction with technology, for now. Observing protocols, masked customers stood behind their own carts and baskets with enough space between them to fit another cart or two.

To people like my mother, self-checkout means letting go of the convenience of the trained assistance of cashiers and baggers. I understand her hesitation. For years, I have observed my mother during our weekly trips to the grocery giving watchful instructions at the checkout line. Most of the time, she is particular with what goes into boxes and what qualifies for paper bag packing (heavy items should be secured in boxes and lighter items can be bunched together in paper bags). Conditioned to this standard, I abide by the same principle so I can avoid unpacking squashed groceries at home: heaviest at the bottom, lightest on top. I find self-bagging to be a therapeutic act. Playing tetris with my own groceries as I listened to the latest Olivia Rodrigo album was a mindless part of my errand I most enjoyed.

Clear markings of each step for the self-checkout counter can be found in place. Photo by JULI SUAZO

While a large step-by-step summary is displayed on top of the counter, a more detailed guide is available right above the screen. Clear markings of each step can be found in place — START HERE, PROCEED TO PAYMENT AND SELECT “TOTAL”, PACK HERE. The self-checkout counters are also conveniently located in front of the customer service kiosk where nearby guards and staff are carefully monitoring the experience of customers. In front of me, a mother of two approached the self-checkout counter opposite the one I was using and clarified the instructions with the guard on standby, “Do I just start scanning?” The staff pointed to a bright green-coloured button labelled SCAN ITEMS and replied, “Press niyo lang po tapos scan na po.” The curious mother examined the screen for a quick second before hauling up her basket, filled to the brim, to the right surface of the counter.

Self-checkout counters do not aim to redesign grocery experiences, but it exists as an alternative option to do everything yourself, for people like me who would gladly opt out of inconveniencing others with my packing preferences compounded by the social obligation at a grocery store to hurry up. To a digital native and ambivert such as myself, a self-checkout counter made for a way more relaxed visit to the grocery (with an added layer of safety).

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The AllDay Supermarket self-checkout counter is at the Evia Lifestyle Center branch in Alabang.