Self-Service Supermarket Checkouts in Japan

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

Self-service cash register in JapanIt 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!

Man at self-service cash register

Mami buys our Christmas bubbly by herself

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6 thoughts on “Self-Service Supermarket Checkouts in Japan

  1. Yeah, the self-service points in the UK(London at least) has been common for years now, it came as a shock for me too about 4 years ago when I first saw one… so tempted to see if I could get away with a freebie XD (I didn’t in the end though).

    Tesco is the main supermarket going all out with them, even my local mini-express Tesco has them, you can even scan coupons and vouchers for discounts ^^.

  2. Really?! We’ve had these in the US for literally years now. I live in San Diego, CA. Many supermarkets as well as Home Depots and large drug stores have two or four self-checkouts alongside all of the normal cashiers.

  3. The concept of self service supermarket checkout is still far away in my place. Retail business is buzzing and innovations are expected anytime now to improve customer satisfaction.

  4. As of 2006, there are quite a few in London, and I’ve shopped regularly at some of them: Sainsbury’s Pimlico, Tesco Finchley and Waitrose Finchley (and a few more around the Brick Lane area) – although most of these supermarket branches would be new and classify as awe-generating superstores.

    And also, as of late 2006, there are a few self-service checkout machines installed in Big W in Melbourne, Australia.

    It does make me wonder if the scheme will ever work out back home… *shakes head*

  5. While these things are real convenient I cannot help but feel insulted by them. I mean it is like the company does not consider me worth the time to look me in the eye when I am buying something. I am not a number I am a man! Treat me like one.

    Although, I do remember there was one store back in my former home in the states which had these things. The only time I used it was when I was buying a truck load of beer and every old granny within a 100 miles decided to go shopping for food at the same time. There is no time to wait for granny to take her sweet old time when my stomach is begging for beer.

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