“Unexpected item in bagging area.”

“Please place item in the bagging area.”

“An attendant will assist you shortly.”

If you can make it through a self-checkout without hearing any of these dreaded sentences, congratulations, you have won a battle in the ongoing war of man versus machine.

I usually win the self-checkout battle except when I buy my coffee cream. Every single time I try to scan the bottle, an attendant needs to assist me. While waiting for someone to show up recently, I examined the bottle and noticed that the placement of the 12-digit UPC code is over a ridge in the plastic bottle. Because of that placement, the scanner couldn't read the barcode numbers in the ridge, so they needed to be added by hand. I asked the woman helping me if this happened often. She laughed and said there are two products the store stocks that store attendants dread because the scanner cannot read the UPC code. My cream is one of those products.

Barcodes are administered by GS1, and rules and regulations state:

Never place bar code symbols, including Quiet Zones, on perforations, die-cuts, seams, ridges, edges, tight curves, folds, flaps, overlaps and rough textures.

That other problem product the attendant mentioned has dark packaging with a white barcode. I checked the GS1 Color Regulations, and UPC codes are required to be printed in black ink on an all white background. Independent businesses are free to create UPC codes in whatever color is pleasing to them, however, certain colors such as red cannot be read by UPC scanners. Avoid printing the bars in red or in a reddish color, like brown. This is because scanning lasers use red light, and red bars are “invisible” to the scanner’s red light.

I reached out to the company that owns the brand that makes the coffee cream. A representative quickly responded via email.

“Regarding the UPC code placement on the bottle and the scanning issue you referenced, this is something we will look into. To date, our customers (such as Target, Walmart and others) have not informed us of an issue with scanning the creamer bottles. That said, we know that in some instances the bar code and scanner do not marry up perfectly, so we apologize for the inconvenience.”

I now use the hand scanner, and I can sometimes get the red light to capture the barcode If I tilt the bottle at the right angle. When it doesn’t work, I still have to wait for the attendant.

Yes, I could avoid all of this by switching brands, but I prefer not to compromise. Every time I have to buy my creamer, I know it’s a gamble. I can't help but get the feeling that the game is rigged to let me win just enough times to keep me playing.