/ Shopping

Have we come round to self-service checkouts?

In the past, self-service checkouts have attracted strong feelings from both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps. Two years ago, the majority of you told us you avoided them like the plague, but the tables have started to turn…

In July 2010 we put up a poll about self-service checkouts and over 1,000 of you responded. Six in ten said you hated self-service checkouts at supermarkets, while a third said you liked them, finding them ‘speedy and convenient’.

However, a recent test by The Grocer found that 83% of their mystery shoppers had ‘no problem whatsoever’ using self-service tills at Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets.

The great self-service checkout debate

In past Convos, we’ve seen frustrated commenters and evangelical converts of self-service tills. For example, Martin Stride was put off self-service checkouts forever:

‘I hate them with a passion, more so in the DIY store I frequent. I object to having to struggle with awkward items to the checkout and scan them. If they want my money the least they can do is take it off me personally – not some robotic, annoying computer voice.’

On the other hand, Craig Brown said they were a great time-saver:

‘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!’

So The Grocer would have us believe that the tides have changed, and we’re turning into a nation of self-service checkout converts. And I have to admit, I find myself turning to them more often than not when I have a small basket of shopping, simply due to the shorter queuing time.

Swings and roundabouts

Yet I still have my frustrations with self-service! As a former checkout-worker, I’m fairly comfortable with the technology. But I find it frustrating that there are still a few occasions where I need help from an assistant. If I want to buy paracetamol, alcohol, anything sharp, anything above a 12 certificate or use a voucher – I need an assistant to approve the purchase. And of course, we’ve all had the ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ warning far too many times.

I fully understand the need to keep a close eye on restricted products, so I don’t blame the checkouts for this. But I often find I’m waiting an unreasonable amount of time as one lone assistant runs themselves ragged trying to approve endless warnings from 20 checkouts. In fact, general secretary of shopworkers union Usdaw, John Hannett said:

‘Frustrated shoppers often take out their anger on the nearest shopworker. Unfortunately, self-service checkouts have become another flashpoint that can lead to shopworkers being abused, threatened and even physically assaulted.’

So, two years on from our original poll, I’m going to run a similar poll again to see if you’ve really changed your minds about self-service checkouts. Have you found that they’re improving over time? Or do you still avoid them at all times?

Do you hate supermarket self-service checkouts?

Yes, I don't like using them (63%, 1,753 Votes)

No, they're speedy and convenient. (32%, 880 Votes)

I don't know, I've never used one. (5%, 131 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,767

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I wonder why more supermarkets haven’t taken up Waitrose’s personal scanners that allow you to scan each item as you shop and simply pay the total at the checkout. Has it been abused? It seems a much more efficient way for both store and shopper.
Having checkout operators targetted for scanning speed perhaps accounts for the race I sometimes have to fill my bags before the “out” area overflows; I just thought it was more entertaining for the operator. Perhaps customers would be banned if they didn’t load their bags sufficiently quickly?


Tesco have these in some of their larger stores. I have been waiting for someone to say whether they are any good or not before having a play with one. I’m not to keen on having someone going through my shopping bags in a ‘random’ check, as if I had been suspected of shoplifting.

At least you could put goods that refuse to scan back on the shelves, but you would still need to have restricted items checked by a human being to establish you are over 18.

Rex Mutt says:
27 October 2014

Does anyone know the legal stand point when a self serve machine at the supermarket repeatedly refuses to take my banknote in payment……do I still have to ‘force’ payment?


It is possible that the note is either damaged our counterfeit. An attendant will inspect it for you.

fed up shopper says:
5 November 2014

First time I ever used one it took my £20 but then did not acknowledge that the money had gone in. I found myself being eyed up and down by the manager who decided to give me my money back. So I don’t trust them for a very good reason.