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Do you hate self-service checkouts?

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The self-service checkout is the Marmite of the shopping world. Some of you love them for their convenience and speed, others hate them for their continuous inhuman errors.

Self-service checkouts first infiltrated our supermarkets in the 90s, but now the often unreliable scanners have veritably rammed our local stores with their robotic voices.

They’re meant to offer convenience to customers, but it’s clear that their main purpose is to reduce supermarket staff, leading to valuable savings.

Most of us hate self-service checkouts

Well, three quarters of us supposedly hate these checkouts, as found in a survey by discount website MyVoucherCodes.co.uk. And although this website would like us to do our shopping online, the results aren’t terribly surprising – a previous poll put Brit dissatisfaction with the checkouts at around half.

Not only do many of us hate self-service checkouts, but they’re also our most hated thing about supermarkets. Dawdling customers and unhelpful staff aren’t too far behind. Seven in ten find the machines infuriating, with many wanting the scanners to be removed altogether.

Which might be a little over the top – the checkouts can speed up the supermarket experience. And although building up the confidence to use them is sometimes hard, once you’ve got the hang of them, you’ll feel like you’re in charge of your own shopping destiny.

‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’

But then you hear those hellish words sent to us by a demonic, robotic woman – ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’. I’ll give you an unexpected item in your bagging area!

You repeatedly drop that packet of nuts on the scales – but to the self-service checkout, your nuts don’t exist. This leaves you aimlessly looking for an overworked member of staff to help you as the queue builds up behind.

Three quarters of those polled said they’d had similar experiences – leading four in ten to stop using them altogether. Sarah Dennis from Which? Home had these words for self-service checkouts:

“Self-service may seem like a good idea in theory, but in my experience they can often be more inconvenient than an unsmiling checkout assistant, where at least there’s some human interaction.”

But the simple fact is – if you want to avoid dawdling customers and unhelpful staff, the self-service checkout may be your best option, even if they often seem like they have a vendetta against you. What’s your experience of self-service checkouts? Love ’em or hate ’em?

Do you hate supermarket self-service checkouts?

Yes, they're worse than unsmiling checkout assistants. (38%, 390 Votes)

No, they're speedy and convenient. (31%, 327 Votes)

Yes, I find them difficult to use. (24%, 250 Votes)

I don't know, I've never used one. (7%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,040

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Our survey says – self-service checkouts suck.


I have four computers and many different peices of software. Most are intuative to use.
The self service checkouts are not intuative. I suspect that the software is American because in their version of English they seem to choose different keywords to us. That is why the prompts on the screen do not seem to do what they imply they will. The command sequence should be childishly simple it is not.

Yes, most of the units I've seen are from NCR, a company I used to work for in Scotland.

I think that's an excellent point. I don't find them intuitive, start bungling and faffing, which makes me embarrassed and get agitated (I am imagine all those people in the queue looking at me), which makes me even more likely to get it wrong. I'm never sure whether the system isn't working or whether it's me not working it properly. Yesterday I couldn't get the terminal to recognise my Tesco loyalty card and I gave up (the purchase was only 60p!). It's always slower than a human checkout.

Simon Huckle says:
19 July 2010

I too have a reasonably high knowledge of computers and IT and I also find them less than non-intuitive. Maybe I'm not the target market 🙁

Tigerlilyblossom says:
23 July 2010

Matthew – I could be wrong but I think your Tesco clubcard points would only register if the items were more than a pound.

The supermarkets encourage us to use our own bags, but the self service checkouts don't like it when I do.

matt says:
14 July 2010

Scan a heavier item first, put in your own bag, and place in bagging area. The system is expecting something, and won't notice the extra weight of the bag.

Thanks for that tip. I find the bag issue the most frustrating at these checkouts. Firstly trying to open their bag. In the struggle the machine loses patience and says an assistant is required. Then there's the problem of starting a second bag if you need to. There isn't enough space to fill two bags. On the whole though I like to use the self service checkouts.

graeme150 says:
15 July 2010

but if you scan heavy items first, you'll hit no end o problems when you come to scan the bags of crisps you put through later, as it can't sense the change in weight!

SuperTrouper says:
15 July 2010

I think it depends of which shops you are talking about – some shops are better than others. Sainsburys has self service checkouts and they are great. I can get in and out of Sainsburys much faster.

Cass Myers says:
15 July 2010

Sainsburys near my house has a lot of self-service checkouts – and I love them! I use them all the time and dread if I go to a supermarket that doesn't have an automated system. When my local Sainsburys was being refurbished, the self checkouts were removed during that time period – thankfully more systems were introduced when the refurb was completed.

Now the M&S near my house has self service checkouts too 🙂

Bill Taylor says:
15 July 2010

Self service checkouts are OK for small shops but actually take longer on a normal shop, Our nearest Sainsburys has too many and not enough normal checkouts. The self service ones are hopeless with own bags yet the shop is constantly exhorting us to reuse bags. I have turned to Tesco where the checkouts are quck and the staff much friendlier.

I am a fairly computer literate person but have always run into snags when trying to use the self-service checkout at Tesco. The way it responds to what I'm trying to do always means that I get "out of step" with the machine. After several snag-ridden attempts (all of which left me very bad tempered) I have promised not to use them again, even if all the other queues are long. Please add more "one basket only" checkouts (even if a few mindless people try to squeeze through with 50 items in a basket).

Rose says:
15 July 2010

I have stopped shopping at my local Sainsbury's supermarket and transferred to the across-town Tesco store due to self-service checkouts. At the same time as introducing self-service checkouts, Sainsbury's cut staff and reduced the number of ordinary checkouts open.
The aim was to force customers to use self-service machines to avoid long queues at normal checkouts. I varied the days and times at which I shopped, but Sainsburys just closed more checkouts at off-peak times, so the queues were always there and just as long. Self-service machines are riddled with faults and failures, so that no time is saved by using them and frustration must be bad for the blood pressure. They are a cost cutting exercise. Tesco always has enough checkout staff. No contest ! I've switched – which is what Which? always encourages us to do!

Martin Newlan says:
23 July 2010

My local large Sainsburys branch generally has more staff supporting the self-checkouts that they do manning the tills, which says something about how difficult it can be to complete a transaction unaided. I would rather wait in a queue!

Mike says:
15 July 2010

I find them fairly convenient – I use the ones at Sainsburys, and you can see the economics for the shop – 6 checkouts operating at about the rate of 3 manned ones, but requiring only one member of staff.

However, the big issues (once you get used to their foibles) is the number of times you still need the assistant. I have stopped using my own bags due to this, and even when the assistant does come over they dont actually check what the issue is -they just automatically swipe their ID card and click OK. Clearly the tolerance for faults is set too low at the moment, and this needs improving to increase the throughput at self-service tills.

James says:
15 July 2010

I'm completely bemused by how negative the supermarket checkout experience is in this country.
Go to Australia, to the busiest supermarkets, and you'll find a new world altogether, where the staff have been trained and equipped to make the checkout experience as quick and simple for the shopper as possible.
They will unfailingly smile politely (if they didn't, they'd get the sack) and then they'll proceed to pack your bags for you, using a cunning yet amazingly simple system of waiting bags deployed in that perfect spot between the scanner and your trolley.
Don't want plastic bags? Don't have a trolley? No worries, just mention it and they'll take that into account.
After all, who is better equipped and trained to process groceries through a checkout – you, or the supermarket?
The responsibility for the checkout process sits squarely on their not-insignificant shoulders, and you would be amazed at what a difference highly-trained, friendly staff with the right equipment can make to queue lengths (and to your day).
The delegation of responsibility onto the customer is getting taken several steps too far.

RonMac says:
16 July 2010

What drives me crazy, is customers lugging 2 baskets, overflowing to self checkouts thinking that this is faster than waiting. There is a 99% certainty that something will be a problem.

Use self checkouts forsay 5/6 items only then we all move faster.

I like them !
But what worries me is that in my local Sainsburys I have started talking to the machine.
Being quite old I find it disconcerting that I am trying to hold a conversation with an inanimate object – lol

I now always use them for small shops if there's a choice (a basket – usually Tesco), though there's almost always a problem when I do. For the big weekly trolley shop I will always use a human cashier (and there a re quite a few good ones, even in the UK). Tesco guided us to an automated checkout with a trolley once, and we won't repeat the experience. Required several interventions from staff and took forever. It made you appreciate how skilled the human cashiers are.

Best system by far is the Waitrose scan as you go system. Pick, scan and put it straight into the shopping bag. Never had a problem. Does require the supermarket to trust their customers though, so it won't catch on.

Roger says:
16 July 2010

Well I must be one of the odd one out. I love self service checkouts. If I use my own bags I put them on the platform before I start and then they don't affect anything. In Devon a lot of these checkouts have ample area for multiple bagging, and I have never had one yet which called the operator because I was too slow. The checkoputs generally are quicker and more accurate – (no double scanning) and if I have a problem with a non scanninmg code the operator is very promptly there to sort it out. I will always use these in preference to an operator, and judging by the number of people starting to use them now I think the public is changing its mind, especially if you only have a couple of items and need to get through quickly. My only criticism is Tesco put a notice on their machines which says "notes in", but the slot under the notice is not where the notes go in and I have seen several people trying to push notes into a non existent slot.

Lou says:
16 July 2010

It always looks like self-service checkouts will be faster – and they usually are, but if they aren't working or just keep shouting "place your item in the bagging area" when you've done exactly that, what irritates me is when the till staff are slow to help – they should make the machines better and clearer to use, but also have someone helping at all times! Technology is not always our friend..

steve says:
19 July 2010

A few weeks ago I tried to use one in my local Morrisons at Barry Waterfront. I was in a hurry, the manned till that I wanted to use wasn't open and the woman slowly preparing the till wasn't about to be rushed, or even answer when I asked how long she would be.

I had three items. The queues were bad apart from the self-service ones. I joined this queue. There was on person using a till so slowly that he's probably still there. Then a lady finished, so I had her till.

Then I had to wait while it played some sort of sdvert at me. Finally the "press to start or scan an item" appeared. Thank you!

Scan the cereal box for about ten seconds, getting more agitated as the thing won't read the barcode. Bleep. Put it in the bag.
Scan the second box for another ten seconds, getting really agitated by the blasted machine. Bleep. Put it in the bag.
Now a bag of bananas. Flatten the barcode. Wave it hopefully. After about 20 seconds, throw it at the bag, curse "**** this piece of ****" under my breath (although the supervisor might have heard it) and storm out of the shop without anything but a foul temper.

Since then I've not been back to Morrisons, but I have related this story many times. When you get exceptional service like this, you should share it!

Horses for Courses.
If you go for a big shop then you expect to be there a while and therefore, use the tills.

You nip in for 1 or 2 items, use the self serve – it's quicker.

Except if it is alcohol you're buying!

Well said – that sums it up.

Sophie Gilbert says:
21 July 2010

Like stevemat says, horses for courses. So long as the machines are an additional service, not a gradual replacement of staff.

I've never used one in a supermarket but the self-service checkout in B & Q is great. I would not want to put a whole set of bathroom furniture through it though. Stevemat is right.

doug gowan says:
23 July 2010

The hand held scanner system used in waitrose is excellent, relioable, and avoids treble handling of goods

David lloyd says:
23 July 2010

I tend only to use them for very small shops when i have 10 or less items that will fit into 1 bag and generally items i don't have to weigh. Doing a sizeable shop using them is impossible – you fill one bag up then have to get ********* to start another.

Try them at BandQ with huge planks of wood like i've seen some people do trying to place them on the checkout scales – haha!

There should be signs up to say what they're best for – even a 10 items or less /basket only rule might proove useful to prevent people mis using them???