Opinion: Why Self-Checkout is Slow to Come to Dollar Stores

A self-checkout station at grocery store Aldi. (Credit: Joshua A. Johnston)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like all posts on Dollar Store Reviewer, this piece is the opinion of its respective authors. Also like all posts, comments are welcome, although we ask users to be mindful of our Community Guidelines.

I can’t say I’ve been the biggest fan of self-checkout. Early on, I found the machines buggy and prone to things like failing to register products I placed in the bag. I also thought they were especially slow when dealing with a lot of groceries. For my money, I usually preferred checkout with a worker over one of those interminable self-checkout stations.

I will admit that I’ve softened some on this position. Self-checkout stations have improved by leaps and bounds over the years, and they are now faster, more accurate, and more efficient than ever. Where a retailer might just have, say, four stations, now we’re seeing more big box and large grocery stores putting 8-12 stations in their checkout area, facilitating a much faster flow of traffic through the checkout area and out of the store.

Aldi, the grocery store that lives and dies on efficiency, has successfully introduced self-checkout into its stores, surprising me with the way it actually accelerates, rather than slows down, Aldi’s already speedy checkout process.

Self-checkout is here to stay, and it’s a fixture in big box stores, grocery stores, and a growing number of other stores. I even recently visited a gas station that had self-checkout inside the convenience center. (Gas stations, of course, have offered pay-at-the-pump for years.)

One frontier that has yet to be crossed in the self-checkout space? Dollar stores.

To be fair, I’ve actually seen a few self-checkout stations at Dollar General and Family Dollar. But you know what? I’ve never seen more than one in a store, and it seems to be out of order more often than not. I can’t fathom why. It’s like someone half-heartedly installed a single, mediocre self-checkout solution, then left it to rot.

And I’ve yet to see any self-checkout at Dollar Tree.

One would think that dollar stores would be an ideal place to plant self-checkout kiosks. Dollar store shoppers, who often shop at the likes of Walmart and Aldi certainly would be familiar with them. Dollar items are typically simple things that are easy to scan. Put in, say, four self-checkout stations in a dollar store, and you would eliminate wait times.

So why isn’t it happening? My guess: most dollar stores aren’t busy enough to justify them.

Consider this: self-checkout requires a single worker to monitor the self-checkout. You can technically operate with no worker, but that’s asking for problems. You also need a second worker available to handle manual checkouts.

Two workers, then.

Except how often do you see two workers running checkout at the front of a dollar store? I’m not sure I ever have, outside of maybe once at a Dollar Tree during rush hour where the line started to get out of hand. But at a Dollar General or Family Dollar? If it’s happened, it’s rare enough I can’t remember it. Nor do I remember lines at a dollar store being longer than, say, five minutes, outside of the aforementioned rush hour Dollar Tree.

Self-checkout would seemingly require more workers. Dollar stores, which may not feel like they need more workers, probably aren’t in any hurry to use more workers to deal with the relatively quiet foot traffic they get.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and we’ll see more self-checkout being deployed at dollar stores.

But in the near future, it doesn’t seem to fit the shopping patterns of these specific stores.

About Joshua

Joshua is the Co-founder of Dollar Store Reviewer. He is also a writer and novelist. You can learn more about him at joshuaajohnston.com.


  1. I have loved self checkouts from the beginning. There are only 2 of us, and when I shop I never have more than 10-15 items. I detest standing in line behind cartloads of groceries, especially at Aldi’s. There is only one drawback that I can see, if I use a coupon, I have to wait for the lone clerk to come over and examine it to make sure it’s real, or something, then they take it or deposit it. But, since I no longer get a newspaper, I rarely have coupons that aren’t loaded onto the store’s card.

  2. I loathe self checkouts and our Walmart has many and only 4 tills with cashiers, never all open at the same time. I have told our dollar stores that I don’t like them and will not shop there if that is my only option to pay. I do often buy a lot at once as I don’t live in town, so have to buy more each shop instead of many small shops. When I’ve tried self checkouts, they never scan properly, especially if there’s a sale price. Our Dollar Tree doesn’t have just one price anymore, and the other dollar stores have many prices, so there’s still a chance of discrepancy, which needs to be resolved by a human staff. I just prefer having a cashier. Otherwise, it’s a slippery slope to cutting staff everywhere and us doing their jobs for free.

  3. The Dollar Tree in Shiloh, IL, has at least 5 self-checkouts.

  4. The dollar trees in my area have lines at the checkout. All the time with more than one line going. One of my stores recently closed for several days while a bank of self check outs were installed. Now there is only one manned check out. Two days after they reopened one self check out was not working . The one I was using wouldn’t let me choose to end scanning to pay. I had to wait for the lone checker to finish checking out the several customers not wanting to use self check out to come to my machine and fix it so I could finish my purchase. The talk was not many of us liked it at least for now. But what was great was store shelves were all Neatly stocked and not one cart of boxes was in any of the aisles waiting to be displayed. Since most stores never have enough employees to check people out and keep the store aisles cleared and stocked these could be the answer unless the employees must now be watching the self checkouts for theft. We’ll see. But right now love not walking around boxes and shelves all ne a tly and fully stocked.

  5. Theft is another big issue that any store with self service has to deal with. People check out only some of their groceries and not all. That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen as things are, but using a self check out, requires a certain amount of honesty, since no one checks your sales receipt as you leave the store

  6. I use the self check out regularly at Frys [Ralph’s, Kroger, Fred Mayer]. My own attitude has changed about them. But it’s been several years since I went through a manned check out when I shop there.

    But then on a trip to visit family in Salt Lake City, my SIL and I went to a Five Below. I’d never been.

    Nothing but self checkouts there and it was unsettling. No clue why.

    Dead serious. It really threw me off. Then to Home Goods [I had never been to one of these stores either] and in a long long line for the registers to check out an item I was buying. Maybe 4-6 checkers. Very busy.

    I’ve shopped at WalMart both ways. But then, even with 13-14 registers they never had at max more than one open even while the lines backed up to the Pharmacy. When I worked there, I hated the self check outs: NCR [National Cash Register] junk… always down, freezing and screwing up orders. Needed constant baby sitting.
    They are far better now.

    Hmmm… which experience was better?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *