Do You Bag Your Own Groceries?

Photo: Noel Hendrickson

Checking out of the local supermarket yesterday, my wife was thanked for bagging her own groceries.  She stopped, then realized that in the U.S. supermarkets have baggers, while the local supermarkets that we shopped at in Germany did not.  Over there, we paid for the groceries and then raced to bag them ourselves beyond the cashier’s table while the next customer’s purchases were scanned. Why the difference?  One possibility is cost-based — the low-wage labor of baggers is relatively cheaper here.  Another is demand-based — the average customer is in more of a rush here, perhaps because his/her value of time is higher.  Any other reasons?


Hmm, don't recall ever having my groceries bagged for me in Canada. The idea of someone bagging my grocery for me seems silly.


The economic mechanisms supporting personal service tasks are completely different in each continent.

In Europe, everyone would assume that bagging was an add on service being provided at the expense of the store. Zero tips per day ensures that no one would take the (probable) minimum wage pay for bagging. In the USA, a healthy tipping culture ensures that pay is adequate for a job with (basically) no added benefits and very low pay.

In Germany especially, shoppers are very frugal and would cringe at the thought of the baggers salary being reflected in higher prices for groceries,


It might be cultural as well. There is a strong sense of pleasing the customers in the US that sometimes goes to unthinkable extents. In some countries, some supermarkets aren't even offering the bags for free anymore, giving environmental reasons for it (you can now buy a bag, but it's a good quality, reusable one). That way, European clients are getting used to have less "customer privileges" for the sake of sustainability. I wonder how many US supermarkets would dare to stop treating their customers to bags...


Up here in Canada we have these handy little platform-things that allow the cashier who's scanning the groceries to bag them at the same time. It's probably not quite as efficient as scanning then dumping them on the counter behind, but it's far cheaper for the store than paying another salary entirely for a bagger.


I think it's a speed thing too. These 'super' grocery stores want to churn through as many customers as possible. Oftern times we've got the main bagger, then assisted by the cashier, as well as myself bagging the bags. Dont want to clog up the line, now do we?


As a European I really feel not comfortable with baggers.

1/ Cashier already is a "poor" job, that could/should/will be replaced by machines, hiring someone to "bag" really lowers human condition, in a way (no skill is required for that)
2/ You feel you have to give back something. A tip ? a smile ? Man, it's already a chore to shop for grocery, why shoud I feel obliged to make another fake smile, I just wanna go home
3/ Practical : may be I'm a Tetris fond and have my particular way of putting groceries into bags.
4/ Ecology : I may be against more bags and have my own. So what, the guy just watches me making my bag ? lol
5/ Silly service : I guess some marketers (and financial staff may be) worked a few weeks on the concept thinking "yeah, let make the supermarket more human and put a bagger at the end of each payline", which is ludicrous

May prove useful for some persons (pregnant, disabled, etc), but in this case, make them truly useful servants, not just dummy bots

@Marshkxx, from France :)

(great job this blog by the way ! love it !)



I don't known what the big cost centers in running a grocery are; but when I was in college I shopped at a discount grocery where I bagged my own groceries. Now that I'm in the working world my local super market is significantly higher end and has baggers.


Store-paid baggers are an inefficient form of labor. they have to work a shift that may see multiple slow periods for one or two busy periods.

Pedro Iturbide

It's socioeducational related. Here in Mexico it,s normal, there in every 3rd world country it's normal and it's because the grocery bagger is some one that doesn't really have any other income way better than bag.


Yes, we bag our own, and our local grocery store has baggers. But I think a lot of them don't get good training, and they just stuff things into bags without consideration for cross-contamination (frozen or meat right next to cleaning products), bag weight or crushed food items.


In most of the European countries that I visited one pays *dearly* for the privilege of using plastic bags supplied by the supermarket. I believe this is due to the EU trying to promote a 'greener' lifestyle or some similar idea. Regardless of the reasons, most shoppers bring their own bags to the supermarket which would no doubt make it rather difficult for a hired bagger to do his/her work. Also, a dedicated bagger using the store's own bags is likely to be seen as a means for the supermarket to artificially increase their customer's bill.


Actually, it isn't costs or any other economical reason in first place. During their German holidays Walmart tried to bring the US concept to Germany, but found no acceptance within consumers. Mainly because of behavioral reasons. Customers were convinced that nobody can pack their bags better than themselves.

Getting the stuff into the shopping bag is some kind of engineering over here.


In Japan, we bag our own groceries which surprises me because Japan is such a service based society. We also have bring our own bags or pay ¥5 for a bag. If you are paying for a bag, even an insignificant price, you are more aware of how many bags you are using.

Karen Henry

I agree with the preceding comments that two key reasons would be the ridiculous extent of hand-holding involved in all services in the USA, and the pragmatic German understanding that baggers on the payroll lead to more expensive groceries.

Here in Ireland, most supermarkets do not have baggers as a matter of course; staff are occasionally assigned to this duty in peak periods. It is also a popular fundraiser for schools, scouts and the like.

Personally I intensely dislike having others bagging my groceries, as they never do it to my exacting OCD standards (they put eggs and fruit on the bottom ,etc). :)


I bag my own groceries here in the US because most baggers do a terrible job of it. I use reusable bags which are strong and have square corners. The usual technique of throwing a few things in a disposable plastic grocery bag does not transfer well to the reusable ones.


The stores here in the U.S that have union labor are more likley to bag for you. So it's probaly not due to cheap labor.

Randy Stevens

I like the way Tesco's Fresh & Easy chain does it. The customer scans his or her own groceries and does self check-out, and a F & E employee bags them. When you are done paying, your groceries are ready to go. On a side note, can anyone tell me the deal with shopping carts in Germany? They seem to be locked in a way that needs a key to take one into the store, I can't figure out if every German citizen has one of these keys, or do you get it from the service desk? If anyone knows the system, please share with me the secret.


I'd say average amount purchased is higher in USA. Americans tend to shop for the week while Europeans shop more often in smaller amounts.


We have a discount grocery store where you bag your own groceries. I guess that is part of where the discount comes from (along with them not accepting credit cards)? Either way, I am happy to bag my own groceries to save a few bucks. I like being able to bag them by how they are stored: all the freezer stuff together, fridge stuff, pantry stuff, and if I have a lot of groceries I can bring in just the freezer/fridge stuff and leave the rest for later. Or for my husband. Plus, I know not to bag soap with soda crackers and will put more than three items in a bag.

What I DON'T like is the other customers who bag their groceries. Each cashier has an efficient, two conveyor-belt system so the next customer doesn't have to wait. But about 60% of the other customers either have never done this before (unlikely, the store has been here 10+ years) or are so self-absorbed they allow their cart to be in the very small area alloted for me to bag my groceries.



In Australia, most major supermarkets and lower cost department stores have introduced self service registers. Customers generally bring their own fabric bags, scan (& weigh) their own groceries, fruit and veges and manage the payment process (cash, credit, eftpos) as well as scan any reward card.

One customer service employee mans between 8-16 registers and basically assists the customer if something goes wrong (e.g. when a particular type of fruit and vege cannot be found in options on screen) and approves the final payment if the credit card requires a signature rather than a personal identification number PIN.

Strangely enough, there seems to be less queues now but I guess there are less jobs as well....