One of the first things you will notice about the new Fresh & Easy grocery stores popping up in the Bay Area is that you better be willing to work as well as shop.

Not only will you be bagging your own groceries, you will also have to ring up your own sales.

In a clear demarcation from other grocery stores, the U.K.-owned and operated Fresh & Easy chain offers only self-serve checkouts. Who needs staff when the shoppers can do all the work at the register?

There is, however, an employee hovering about who will help you, or should I say train you. This is not an ATM. You need to find and scan bar codes, find and manually enter numerical codes for vegetables, properly bag your groceries and execute the payment method to conclude your sale.

I first started to see do-it-yourself checkouts at Home Depot a few years ago and thought it made sense for a do-it-yourself store. But it wasn't a gimmick, and the success at Home Depot was quickly copied.

When you are only buying a few things, self-serve checkouts are bearable and may even get you out of the store faster.

But if you have to check out a heavily loaded grocery cart, you might feel like filling out a United Food and Commercial Workers union card when finished.

Where there is a choice between human help and a faceless cold machine barking prices and instructions at you, the general public still gravitates toward living and breathing checkers.


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It's not a technical phobia, because many of those willing to wait in long lines for someone else to scan and bag their purchases occupy their wait time with smartphones.

Their lack of use seems to stem from the amount of effort required to do it yourself.

Hunting and gathering food throughout the aisles is enough work for many of us. Being conscripted into performing clerical and bagging duties on top of shopping is asking a lot.

Unfortunately, you can expect more self-serve checkouts in the future. The idea of replacing checkers with shoppers is just too appealing for retail executives trying to fatten profit margins with fewer labor costs.

The influx of self-serve checkouts has been fairly remarkable, considering 10 years ago they were nonexistent and today they represent 20 percent of retail checkouts.

The leading maker of self-service checkout machines, NCR Corp., is coming off a record sales year for the devices and expects growth of 10 percent or more this year. NCR, founded in 1884 as the National Cash Register Company, also builds the self-serve kiosks at airports and ATMs that scan checks and cash.

Mark Twain once asked whether work, per se, is really work when his fictional character Tom Sawyer persuaded friends to paint a fence for him by making it look fun.

The word fun doesn't seem to resonate around self-service checkouts.

Stand back and observe the neophytes taking to the register for the first time and you won't see much laughing or smiling, and no conga line will break out.

Instead, you will see shoppers taking on pained expressions that come with doing unfamiliar and unpaid physical labor.

Drew Voros is the business editor. Contact him at avoros@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/bizeditor.