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5 Ways Checkout Lanes Are Changing Forever

Everything about your shopping experience is changing—even your checkout routine. Make sure you're ready for these new changes.

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Cashier ringing up groceriesNoel Hendrickson/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our world in many unexpected ways. With new social, spending, and sanitation habits, nothing is quite like it used to be. Through stay-at-home orders and mandated social distancing, it’s no surprise that our essential businesses have had to make a few changes. Keep yourself in the know with these rules for shopping at Walmart, Target, and more during COVID-19.

While you may have to say goodbye to your chats with your cashier, stores are doing everything they can to keep us safe and keep the nation running. One way to reduce your risk is to reduce time in the store and frequency of high-touch areas. The worst offender? Checkout lanes.

Take a look at these ways that checkout lanes are adapting to the new normal.

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happy woman buying bottle of water at supermarket self service cash register check outfrantic00/Getty Images

The era of self-checkout

As of 2018, a survey found that over 66 percent of shoppers preferred self-service options. Now, in 2020, the number has increased to over 87 percent of shoppers preferring a contactless, self-checkout option.

Customers have decided to mitigate the risk of in-person shopping by forgoing the cashier and bagger altogether, preferring to scan and bag their own products instead. Self-checkouts have popped up all over in stores that previously hadn’t made the switch; those that were already equipped with self-checkout sections have doubled or tripled their number to address the pandemic. Walmart is even trial-testing a store entirely of self-checkout lanes in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Though no longer the default, Walmart clarifies that customers will still have the option to have employees scan and bag their purchases on request. If you prefer to buy your groceries online, check out these tips to save you time and money.

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COVID-19 Grocery Store Checkout Line Social Distancing Sign NoticeYinYang/Getty Images

Social-distancing decals

If you look down at your feet next time you’re checking out, you’ll likely notice stickers or decals marking six-feet distances. These decals help customers waiting in line maintain the recommended distance apart from each other.

Additionally, these spacers might extend beyond the checkout lane. Decals may be present in other waiting areas or high-frequency congregation points (the deli counter line, for instance). These areas must encourage social distancing as stores work to maintain the small number/quotas of people allowed inside at once. Make sure you aren’t a victim of the COVID-19 shopping frenzy with these tips.

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Mobile PaymentGeber86/Getty Images

Contactless payment

Before the virus swept across the country, America had already begun the switch to contactless payment methods. Credit cards, mobile payments, and touchless technology can greatly reduce the risk of transmission via kiosk keypads. While cash, with its linen-cotton blend, can potentially spread the virus, contactless payments provide both cyber and physical security for all parties.

In the near future, kiosks and checkout lanes will likely have contactless checkout technology. Chip cards, near-field communication technology (NFC), and mobile wallets also speed up the checkout-time for most consumers without the slower methods of counting change or swiping a card. These methods will greatly reduce the time a customer needs to be in the store and therefore reduce their risk of catching or spreading the virus. Should you still be using cash post-COVID? The answer is complicated.

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Owner in the bookstore during covidMaica/Getty Images

Clear dividers

These dividers, sometimes called sneeze shields, help prevent any airborne droplets or sprayed particles from crossing the border between customer and cashier. If not already implemented, most stores and checkout areas will soon add a plexiglass or plastic shield in checkout areas at or around eye-level. Cash or other items will be passed underneath or through small openings to reduce germ spread.

While the shield is not entirely effective at preventing the transmission of COVID-19 on its own, it can be a vital component in reducing the spread of the virus when used in conjunction with masks, social distancing, and other safety measures. Everything is changing with the pandemic—make sure to change your everyday habits to keep you safe.

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Amazon Launches First Full-Sized Go Grocery StoreDavid Ryder/Getty Images


Additional changes you might see are scan-and-go or Amazon-go alternatives. Scan-and-go technology is being rolled out or reemerging after less successful testing earlier in 2019. Testing locations included stores such as Sam’s Club, Meijer, 7-Eleven, BJ’s Wholesale, Kroger, and Walmart.

The scan-and-go technology allows customers to scan each item’s barcode with a special app on their smartphone. Next, the customer pays and checks out online. A staff member then checks your digital receipt on the way out the door. This not only decreases the time spent in-store but also minimizes the number of hands touching your goods.

In the Amazon-go model, “Just Walk Out Technology,” customers simply log in to their account on the Amazon Go app, select their items, and walk right out the door. Later, Amazon sends a receipt and charges their accounts directly. This way, with the help of cameras, customers drastically reduce shopping time, cut down on lines, and minimize high-contact touch areas. Checkouts are surely changing, but Walmart won’t even sell these items anymore! As for Costco—it won’t have these items anymore either.

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COVID-19 Commercial Food From RestaurantSmith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

No reusable bags

Despite plastic bag bans and ordinances being put into place all over the United States mere months before the coronavirus pandemic hit, many of these rules are now being suspended or rolled back. In 2019, we saw a wave of sustainability measures requiring the use of reusable bags that are not being enforced at the moment. Many stores now temporarily prohibit the use of reusable bags for sanitation and hygiene purposes. Instead, stores are promoting paper bags and planning to phase out plastic bags when it is safe to do so. Check out these other things you won’t see anymore in your favorites stores like Target, Walmart, and Costco.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.