Simpler Times

 

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I saw this cash register at Uncharted Grounds, the coffee roastery in Kandern, Germany, where some friends work. It brought back memories.

When I was a child cash registers looked very much like this one. There were no bar codes or scanners. Each item in a store had a price sticker, and at checkout a human would look at the sticker, enter the numbers in the cash register and the machine would add those numbers and print a receipt.

If you look closely, you can see four sets of numbers, two in white (a set for 0-9, a set of multiples of 10), and duplicates in black.

Canadian cash registers were a little different from this German one, which at the top has two displays, which I am guess are Reich Marks (RM) and Pfennigs (PF). I guess that shows the age of the machine. On my first visit to Germany, in 1986, they were using the Deutsche Mark. Now pretty much everyone in Europe uses the Euro, which makes life easier for cash register manufacturers.

There was something elegant about watching a skilled person operate one of these fancy adding machines. Their fingers would fly as the machine tallied your purchases. Rarely did they make a mistake.

These days I watch the display on cash registers like a hawk. Maybe I have a distrust of technology, but I think it is important to double check to ensure the machines don’t make a mistake.

They never do of course. Except it happens all the time.

Not that I blame the scanner for displaying the wrong price. When it happens it is because someone has made an error inputting codes into the master computer. The scanner doesn’t know the number is wrong. The cashier trusts that the numbers are accurate. I just don’t trust them.

In Ontario many retailers offer an item for free if it scans wrong. I presume that comes from when the scanners were first introduced, showing that the retailers had faith in the technology. I’ve never calculated, but I figure I probably would get between fifty and a hundred dollars worth of free groceries each year because I was double checking the technology.

Back in the old days if the cashier made a mistake he or she could check the price tag on the merchandise and compare it to what they had entered. It was a simple process. These days they have to call someone, who takes the item back to the department and checks to see if I am correct in my recollection of the price. It takes a lot longer, and inconveniences anyone behind me in line.

I regret that, but I do it anyway. Somebody has to keep the machines honest.

 

One comment

  1. (Speaking as a shopkeeper) Thank goodness for modern technology! We use barcodes to keep track of stock, so that we don’t need to count every can before realising we’re short of beans. You are right though, cumputers are only as accurate as the people that program them!

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