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The 7 Rudest Things You're Doing at Self-Checkout, Etiquette Experts Say

These subtle mistakes are sending the wrong messages.

Between online shopping and self-checkout in stores, our shopping experiences are increasingly automated and isolated. However, that doesn't mean that your behavior occurs in a vacuum. When you use the self-checkout aisle, there's still a code of conduct that helps ensure harmony between you, your fellow shoppers, and the store's staff. Read on to learn the seven rudest things you're doing at self-checkout, so you can curb those discourteous habits and avoid offense.

RELATED: 6 Things You Should Never Do at the Grocery Store, Etiquette Experts Say.

Leaving unwanted items behind

A photo showing a woman's hands scanning a box of strawberries at the grocery store's self check out service.

The checkout area can quickly become littered with discarded items if you decide you don't want them.

"We have all had a change of heart while waiting in line at the grocery store. In the regular grocery checkout line, it is polite to hand the item to the cashier and explain that you no longer want it," says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. "In the self-checkout lane, you do not leave the item behind for the next person to find. Instead, give the item to the attendant who is supervising the self-checkout lanes."

Getting frustrated at the machine

A frustrated woman uses a self-checkout counter. The girl does not understand how to independently buy groceries in the supermarket without a seller

While some people find self-checkout machines intuitive to use, others struggle to navigate the technology. This is especially common when buying produce or other items that don't use a simple barcode. However, experts say it's important not to get overly frustrated with the machine.

"The machines are not perfect. We have all received the 'Unexpected item in the bagging area' warning after scanning an item," notes Hirst. "Getting frustrated or upset makes the situation uncomfortable for the other people using the machines. Take a deep breath and resolve the issue or ask for help. If you find this happening too often, maybe you should stick with the human cashier."

RELATED: 7 "Polite" Tipping Habits That Are Actually Offensive, Etiquette Experts Say.

Being unfriendly with the attendant

Young happy woman using self-service checkout with help of supermarket worker.

When you need assistance with the self-checkout machine, an attendant will come to your aid. Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette & Protocol Academy, says it's crucial to keep your cool with the attendant who comes to help you—even if the checkout process has you at your wit's end.

"A person is deemed well-mannered when they use, what we call, the magic words: please, thank you, and excuse me. Any sentence that does not include these words when requesting something, showing appreciation, or getting someone's attention is considered disrespectful and therefore rude," she says.

Making demands rather than asking for help politely, shouting across the room to get the attendant's attention, or arguing about prices are all examples of ways this interaction commonly goes awry.

Using the machine as a personal phone booth

Side view portrait of adult woman using smartphone at self checkout in supermarket

You may not be standing face-to-face with a cashier, but fielding calls at the self-checkout counter is still considered rude since it can easily hold up the line behind you.

"Whether you are using the regular checkout line or the self-checkout line, it is rude to hold up the process by talking on your phone. Put the call on hold or tell the person you will call them back when you are done checking out and then complete the process as quickly as possible so you can get back to your call," advises Hirst.

RELATED: 7 Things You Should Never Do at a Doctor's Office, Etiquette Experts Say.

Self-scanning your items if you only have cash

A woman reads the bar code of instant noodles soup at the self-service checkout machine in supermarket

Another way you're likely to come off as rude at self-checkout is if you self-scan your items without a credit or debit card on hand. Most machines don't accept cash, meaning the attendant will have to either cancel all of your purchases and begin again at the regular checkout aisle or go to great lengths to accept payment.

Allowing kids to "play" with the machine

Little girl is at the self service checkout of the supermarket with her father.

Kids often love helping out at the grocery store, but the self-checkout counter is one place where you should limit their involvement.

"Do not let your kids use the machine. It is not a toy and nobody wants to wait while your children are playing. If you would like them to participate, ask them to hand you the items to be scanned or give them the items to bag after they have been scanned," suggests Hirst.

Interrupting the self-checkout staff


Oftentimes, a single self-checkout staff member oversees several machines and customers at once. If you interrupt while they're helping someone else, this is definitely considered rude, says Windsor.

Instead, politely get their attention and make it clear that you're willing to wait until they've wrapped things up with the last customer—and don't forget to smile. "A smile speaks a thousand words and makes people feel appreciated. Smile and the world smiles with you!" Windsor adds.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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