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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.

Judy McLean says:
24 July 2010

Nobody has mentioned the Sainsbury’s scan it yourself system known as Fast-track, which is excellent and predates the Waitrose system. Also the Waitrose one requires that you have a John Lewis credit card, so is not readily available for all.
I don’t like the self -checkout for the same reasons as many others – unexpected item, and not recognising own bags.

I use the Waitrose self scan system and haven’t got a John Lewis credit card. I was told any credit card could be registered – and it works.

Jenny Lewis says:
24 July 2010

My daughter went to Ikea yesterday for Bedroom furniture. Sliding wardrobes, bedside cabinets, chest of draws and dressing table. After the assistant had helped them work out what they needed the total was over £1,300 plus £175 delivery they were told they had to go to the storage area and pick out everysingle item themselves and load these onto a trolly. This meant every draw, rail and door knob. As you can imagine some of these peices were huge and her partner had to do this himself as she is 81/2 mths pregnant. They managed this after quite a struggle and another struggle to get the trolly to checkout, you know how awkward trollies are let alone when piled high with large furniture. At checkout they were told the should have made sure all the barcodes were in a particular place, so had to juggle everything again. Having paid eventually for all the items they were told to take them to the delivery bay. Another long trek without any help from any members of staff, once there the surly assistant said they would need another trolly as he couldn’t possible handle all the items off one trolley as it wasn’t safe. Needless to say tempers by this point were getting very frayed, partner went all around the store to get back outside to get the extra trolley to bring it all the way around the store back to deliveries. Meanwhile assistant could see daughter get absolutely furious so nipped just outside his door and got another trolley! When the partner got back too delivery bay things were certainly getting worse and worse. They asked if when the items were delivered they could be placed in the bedroom as daughter would be there on her own (81/2 mths pregnant) she was told NO its to the doorstep only. That was the last straw they saw red and told the assistant they no longer wanted any of the items and how do they get a refund!! The quality of service in the store was diabolical with assistants seeing them struggling and not one offer of help. They got their refund but only after having too take the whole trolley back around the store to the refunds department. I would have thought this could contraviene Health and Safety laws apart from the common curtesy of Customer Service. Or is it a case of looking after the well being of their own staff and b….. the paying customer. Needless to say a letter of complaint will be sent, not that anyone will really be bothered. Self service checkouts are ok for a limited number of small items but stores should make sure the equipment we have to use if straightforward and quick to use. I also noticed this is now the trend in B&Q another store where customers can be purchasing large and heavy items! I am sure once they are all sued for various accidents that will inevetably occurr they will soon revert to having shop assistants who will actually help the customer at the checkouts.

Pete Massingham says:
25 July 2010

Re Jenny Lewis.
The service you get in these kinds of stores in the UK is dreadful. In the States, you really do get extra help moving goods and your purchase is often taken to you vehicle. The customer is always right! You are made to feel valued as a customer. Common sense.
Generally, service in the UK at furniture stores and the like is appalling, as is the delivery attitude – they just want to dump the stuff and go! We really don’t get it right here and some stores should be revealed and shamed in this context!

K.G. Isaacson says:
24 July 2010

We like the human contact at a check-out, this will become more important when we have retired and shopping may become an important chance to interact with other people. Where we live most of the checkout staff are friendly

get a life

Pete Massingham says:
25 July 2010

At the very least you should get a discount for not receiving a service from the normal checkout route.I much prefer to chat with the checkout person and feel I am engaging with something and someone more friendly and responsive. I use the self checkout system sometimes, but it is not a user friendly experience, especially if the system declares something is wrong and you have a queu of people waiting to get through.

sumbloke says:
25 July 2010

I love them, Thanks to the huge number of Luddites about, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, I never have to queue at the checkouts when shopping. Yes the "unexpected item" business is annoying and trying to open a plastic bag can be frustrating but overall, the convenience far outweighs the hassle. Leave the self service checkouts for those with a bit of a sense of adventure. The rest of you, get in the queue.

Actually in my local Sainsburys there are long queues in the self-service bays – The non self service also has a long queue but fewer customers – because the self servers are trying to prove they can use them – and fail.

Conway Hawkins says:
25 July 2010

They’re quick to use if you don’t have a lot of shopping

If one has a small number of items (less than 10) then the self service can be quicker. For a ful weekly shop I object to serving myself when the supermarket has gone to the bother of training up the professionals to do it all for me, and they have happy smiling faces in our Sainsburys. When we all start self serving then I suspect it will cost more to go through a staffed checkout, once again penalising the ,probably elderly, people who tend not to be computer literate.

Try Aldi for really fast checking-out’ Their check-out assistants are clearly trained to operate at an astounding speed, that does require you to equally quickly transfer the checked goods into your trolley. After paying, you take your trolley to an adjacent shelf/counter and pack into bags….. at whatever speed you wish. It might be a tad lacking in customer service but boy, it’s fast! Rarely do you see long check-out queues at Aldi – staff appear to be multi-skilled and at the first sign of a checkout delay will leave their shelf-stacking (or whatever task they’re engaged in) and immediately open up another check-out.

Sally Rogers says:
26 July 2010

I tried using the Tesco ones when they first came in and gave up in despair. I got so fed up with being told I hadn’t put the item in my bag etc. I am not pleased to see that Sainsbury’s have now introduced them too.
On the other hand, I really like the Waitrose type where you walk around scanning your shopping as you go. This really saves time as you don’t have to handle every item twice, you put it straight into your shopping bag in your trolley and it also tells you about offers as you go along. Just occasionally you find an item that won’t scan and occasionally you have to have you whole shop re-scanned.

fiona says:
27 July 2010

I hardly ever go to Sainsburys now because I hate the self service checkouts.
They aren’t too bad if I’m only buying a few items. However if I’m buying a trolleyful and have a toddler and an infant in tow these checkouts are desperate. It’s not easy to scan goods, make sure I put them in the bagging area correctly, put them in bags, soothe children and deal with irregular requests from the machine all at the same time.
There are staff members on hand to help with the beeping etc but some staff are more helpful than others. On one occasion a staff member pulled an item out of my hand because I hadn’t put it in the bagging area quickly enough for her liking.

I’m not daft or computer phobic. In fact I have worked in shops myself and managed to use cash registers etc.

I could just use the manned checkout but there are usually long queues.

Sainsbury’s competitor has a shop close by with manned checkouts, handy parking and very short queues.

Catherine Schade says:
27 July 2010

Am I the only mad woman who yells back when told "unexpected item in bagging area", "It’s a bag!"?Honestly, these checkouts are so frustrating I avoid them altogether. Surely enough time has elapsed for the bugs in the self-checkout software to have been sorted. This is bad customer service!

Pam Sturrock says:
27 July 2010

The Sainsbury’s self-service check-out sounds an absolute nightmare! I do use the Waitrose one quite happily, unless I have my 2 year old granddaughter sitting in the trolley. She once slipped ‘extra’ goodies into my bags without me noticing!!!…. Luckily I didn’t have a ‘spot check’ call that time so didn’t discover the two extras until I got home. I did return them to the customer services desk and was thanked for my honesty. I won’t risk it again if she is with me, I couldn’t face the embarrassment.

Rebecca Devitt says:
27 July 2010

Just like most people I can use these machines perfectly well when I’m on my own. However, when coping with children it’s a nightmare. You’d have to be an octopus to cope with toddlers at the same time. Even when I am on my own I find these checkouts very slow. Is it designed with long pauses to allow for those who are slow moving? It’s very frustrating having the process broken down into so many tiny steps. It’s definitely quicker if you have 5-10 items to go to a manned express checkout. In my opinion the large supermarkets are failing to provide the service that we, the customers, pay for. The supermarkets are making large profits and should continue to provide service, preferably with a smile. Perhaps while there is a recession supermarkets should accept the need to temporarily make smaller profits and continue to employ staff at current levels. Thus keeping staff and customers happy and benefitting the country as a whole, by not contributing to an increase in unemployment, at this difficult time.

Lynne says:
28 July 2010

I haven’t used a self-service checkout since a frozen faced teenager in Tesco came over to sort out one item that needed authorisation, came back again to sort out an item the machine didn’t recognise, pressed "Finish and Pay" and walked off leaving me with several items still in the basket waiting to be checked. I walked off too, leaving everything where it was – a fatal combination of bad technology and bad staff.

Like so many people have already commented I think the Waitrose system is great and have never had a problem with it – even on the times I have to have my shopping rescanned. I think Safeway had a similar system of scanning as you shop years ago and I liked that one too.

I have used both Sainsbury’s and Tesco recently and used the self serve checkouts at both and will not do so again in a hurry. One of them (I forget which) asked if I had my own bags and asked me to put them in the bagging area but didn’t recognise them – presumably as I use M&S bags. Add to this that I bought a couple of bottles of wine, one item just wasn’t recognised and the assistant helping the self serve tills was too busy chatting to a colleague to respond and I was ready to walk away and leave everything.

No-one seems to have mentioned the self serve tills in Boots yet – maybe they aren’t in many stores yet but I love them. Never any problems, always fast, help if you need it and they let you use your own bag or no bag at all.

Craig Brown says:
31 July 2010

I find these machines fantastic. Sure, they can be a bit glitchy and it’s a pain when you’re buying items such as alcohol but overall I think they are a good thing. When I pop down to my local Sainsbury’s I can now pop in and out in a few minutes rather than having to queue for ages just to buy some milk! I’m not a technophobe. Anything which makes my life easier and quicker is a good thing!!

sheila mcquaid says:
1 August 2010

They are frustratingly unreliable and horribly noisy, especially the ones in the large Boots store at Liverpool Street. And the Sainsburys at Paddington which, whenever I pass through, seems to be using the slowest, most sedated staff to serve travellers who have a train to catch. I feel manipulated. They are trying to weaken my resistance and make me use the automated check-outs. To me the automated checkout epitomises the cynicism of the big supermarkets. Customers will not receive any benefit when they cut even more low waged check-out staff. Shareholders may benefit but customers won’t. No wonder staff are not smiling when they have to work with the incessant reminder of their imminent obsolescence. Support supermarket staff and shun the automated check-out!

C. Morrison says:
1 August 2010

I refuse to use these checkouts unless I’m desperate. Using the normal checkout at least keeps someone in a job.

Went in the other day to find 3 assistants monitoring the Tesco self-checkouts

3 experienced checkout girls are a lot faster than the four auto machines – oh 2 were broken.

So annoying!

A second thought:
The onus on checkout speed up is all wrong
Its not fast scanning that we need in stores; its fast packing.

Help the customer pack faster and we’d be able to keep up with the scanning assistant and the queue would go down dramatically faster.

I’ve seen it work in other countries and it really is much much better.

The two Iceland shops I use both often have “bag fillers”