/ Shopping

Our survey says – self-service checkouts suck

Shopper carrying supermarket basket

Self-service checkouts are a regular feature in our supermarkets, but it’s been claimed that they haven’t cut queuing times. Whether this is true or not, your votes show that more of you loathe than love them.

A small increase waiting times at staffed checkouts in Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been cited as proof that self-service checkouts don’t work.

The timings were provided by The Grocer, but even they weren’t convinced that these waiting times (up by around 10 seconds) actually refuted the value of self-service.

For a start, the same report showed that waiting times in Asda and Morrisons had in fact dropped in the past two years. Secondly, when taking self-service checkouts into consideration, waiting times overall have dropped in most supermarkets.

But then there’s the opinion that more self-service checkouts mean less staff – an ugly detail that supermarkets have tried to deny. There’ll always be questions over whether scanning shopping ourselves is for our benefit or for the benefit of the supermarkets’ bottom line.

Whatever the truth, it looks like we’ll have no choice – around 15,000 of these ‘unexpected item’ scanners are expected to be working in our country’s supermarkets by next year.

Most of us hate self-service checkouts

And it looks like this roll-out won’t please most shoppers – six in ten of you said that you hated self-service checkouts in our poll of over a thousand people. Of those cynics, two in five said they were worse than unsmiling checkout assistants, with a quarter finding them difficult to use.

In our comments section others said that the robotic checkouts were unintuitive, with others frustrated by the need for assistance when buying items like alcohol. But they do have their supporters – a third of you said you liked them because they’re speedy and convenient.

Although most disliked self-service checkouts, quite a few of you had a soft spot for Waitrose’s quick-check system, where shoppers scan their shopping as they go. Whether this will catch on in other supermarkets is unknown, especially since the system relies on trust.

In the end, whether you love or loathe self-service checkouts, what’s important is having the choice of using a staffed till. Personally, I’m waiting for the day when I can load my shopping trolley and just walk out of the supermarket as it’s all automatically scanned and charged to my card. Now that’s convenience.

You can read my original post on self-service checkouts, complete with poll results, here.


I love self-service checkouts. I don’t have to deal with talking to a cashier, I can do everything at my own pace, and best of all I can keep my headphones blaring while I pay for my shopping.

There’s always the “needing assistance” thing, but honestly it’s a minor inconvenience, really. I don’t find them difficult to use at all, either- it’s just scanning stuff and putting it on the platform.

Tom H says:
25 August 2010

I only use self service checkout at the supermarket. This way I know that the right amount of items are being scanned and can keep an eye on the prices. I also like bagging my own groceries ( frozen food in one bag , meats in another , dairy in another , etc) At least once a week, an item scans the wrong price and the market has to give me the item for free.

Tom’s point is a good one, but by law (unless it has changed since I last worked in retail) the till must have a customer facing display so you should be able to keep a clear eye on prices at a manned till too. Bag packing is usually up to the customer anyway in the shops I know – only Sainsbury’s seem to be over enthusiastic about packing for you, and even they don’t actually do it without asking, but I do agree that packing your own bags is preferable.

However, I’m afraid that I am absolutely against self service tills for the following three reasons:
1) for customers with a sight impairment, who still have cards that you sign for rather than use a PIN, the self service tills can’t cope: as soon as you insert your card the machine starts to sound an alarm and call for an assistant. This would be OK except that assistants in so many shops these days have never been trained to deal with signature cards and so whether a manned or self service checkout is in use, the assistant usually comes along and doesn’t know what to do, then has to fetch someone else and so on, meanwhile the sight-impaired customer is embarrassed and annoyed and the queue behind them gets ever more full of irritable and sometimes abusive people.
2) in my experience (especially in B&Q) the security scale cannot cope with lightweight items and no matter how hard you slam down (or how gently you place) an item on the scale, if it is not heavy enough the machine won’t allow you to scan the rest of your shopping because it thinks that you have broken the rules and bagged something directly. Again, this results in an assistant being called and often they cannot make the till behave properly either and again a queue forms.
3) It is morally reprehensible that we should be making checkout staff redundant in order to maximise the profits of the shops, and no matter which way you look at it or how much the shops deny it, this is what is happening.

Graham Forecast says:
26 August 2010

you could also add that, in Tesco at least, its impossible to use your own bags, unless you are prepared to scan everything, placing it directly on the security scale, then bagging it after you have paid.

well, let’s start with banning machines and computers in every aspect of modern life that have led to people losing their jobs since, ooh, the Industrial Revolution? Yes, down with this sort of thing.

If you have a large shop with/without kids self service is out and takes longer as you cant scan, pack and load the trolley at the same time. For 1 basket its easy and for 1 item in B&Q or any where else for that matter its a godsend.

My only comment would be is where they are set out and the number they have. Tescos where I have shopped are all in one place and there arent enough so you have to queue – its a v large superstore so there should be more. Sainsbury’s have more and split them into two groups and spread them apart – same sized store.

I can also appreciate DD’s comment and would add that the whole process and weighing veg etc for some might also cause problems

Emily says:
26 August 2010

I’m happy to use either self-service or manned checkouts. What I want to know is why, when I’m in the self-service line, does the line for self-service checkouts always take longer than the line for manned checkouts, but when I’m in the manned line, it takes longer than the line for self-service checkouts? Sometimes I feel the universe would like me to spend half my life in line at Sainsbury’s.

Emily, there is a well-known theory for this. I think eminent scientists have called it Sod’s Law!

I like using the self checkouts and agree that waiting times in Asda have decreased as they have recently added more self checkout tills. When I spoke to my 80 year old mother about the tills she said she no longer goes to Asda for a few items as she doesn’t know how to use them and doesn’t want to know how to use them and as there are no manned quick tills this means she has to use another supermarket which is further from home and more expensive.

Iam not happy with self service check out although I use. Most of the time either till has a problem or barcode does not work. Then call or wait for assistance to sort out. I believe it more time consuming. it only work if you are used to with self checkout till or buying 2 or 3 items. If you have more items you will be better off at manned check out. I ahven’t experienced yet but it if you special offer coupon & don’t know how to use. In the it will be your loss.

Claire says:
10 September 2010

Boots also have self-service checkout that cannot cope with customers trying to use their own bag. I don’t ming checking my stuff myself, but I don’t like the loud voice telling the whole queue what I am buying, or the bag thing – can the retail boffins only get their head around one innovation at a time?

Have you noticed that they never scan as smoothly as the main tills? My local has 3 staff ‘helping’.

That’s 3 express tills that could be manned by faster more efficient staff.

(Edited by moderators: Please refrain from posting any derogatory or offensive language, as we explain in our commenting guidelines – https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/)

Of course self-service checkouts take much longer than manned ones. With a manned one you put all your shopping on the conveyer while the previous person is being served then, while the cashier scans the items you can concentrate on packing them – hopefully keeping up with the cashier as otherwise you end up delaying the queue behind you. With a self-service you have to take each item out, scan it (which takes you longer than the cashiers as they have more practice and already know the right speed, height above scanner etc. etc, and the bar-code location for most products), touch it down in the bagging area and bag (or leave the bagging area to fill up and bag at the end while everyone behind you is waiting). Also when you buy multiple items the cashier scans one and then types in x10 and pushes the box along. With self service you have to take each one out and scan individually – you can’t even scan the same item 10 times as the machine complains ‘not in bagging area’.

If they want people to use self-service the supermarkets have to make their systems much better. RFID tags would be a good start – put everything on the conveyer and it is monitored as it passes a point while you then put completed items in your bags. Traditional checkouts have evolved to be very efficient – find a system that makes self-service work in the same way.

Went in the Co-Op near to me the other day and decide dto try the Self Service till because the queue at the only manned till that was open was huge and I had only 3 items and wanted to pay in cash.
Item number 1 – would not scan, so had to call assistant. She could not make it scan so inserted her key, typed in the 16 digit bar code number manually. Item number 2 scanned fine. Item number 3 scanned on 2nd pass. However, item number 3 was only a greetings card and the scale refused to recognise it in the bagging area. Assistant came back and again over-rode the silly machine. Surprisingly it accepted my £20 note even though it was rather crumpled without any trouble. Change was issued correctly, though it was rather annoying to get so much copper when a larger denomination coin could have been issued: I expect it had run out of the larger coins. Then I picked up my bag of 3 items only to find that the till kept shouting “take receipt, take receipt, take receipt” like some demented myrmidon, which I would have done except that it had not issued one, doubtless because it was out of till roll. I left whilst the 5 or 6 people behind me all looked totally miffed and waited for the assistant, who was now serving at a previously closed manned till in order to try to get the queue down and shouted to them “do you want to come to this one!”
I’m guessing that in this case the self service till had possibly not been maintained properly, but I guess it still shows how useless they are.
Yesterday I went to B&Q with my partner. We had no choice but to go to the self service till as the manned ones were ALL shut. We scanned the items OK and to be fair every item scanned 1st time and the scales did not complain about any of them at all. My partner has a normal PIN card so we paid with that and all went well, but then we tried to leave and the security alarms at the door went off. We had bought over 40 different items, mostly electrical, and when the assistant came (and the poor lass was trying to look after ALL 8 Self Service tills single handed) she took one look at the good s and said “electrical, they’ll all be tagged, come with me please and walked us right down the entire line of tills to the farthest one which was where the desensitiser was. There she unbagged all 5 carriers of goods, desensitised each one in turn, and packed them again for us. By the time we left she had alarms ringing at 5 or the 8 selft service tills and 2 other people walking out leaving heaps of scanned but unpaid for goods on the tills as they had given up in disgust. One of them was shouting quite abusively at the assistant as she ran back to help.
Clearly in the B&Q case there is a double fault: not only should they not have these infernal machines which can’t cope with security tagged items, but the manager who left 1 assistant on her own to deal with 8 lines should be fired. (Instead I bet the poor assistant got told off for having 5 alarms going unattended.)

Pure opinion, nothing to do with fact: I’m a bit disappointed that there is a “disagree” against my experience above since I was trying to show sympathy for the poor assistants in each case: are we saying that it’s OK for assistants to be placed in those embarrassing positions and subjected to abuse from customers? If so, I’m disheartened in my fellow human-beings’ callousness.

i agree how can you expect 1 person to man so many tills and do it safely ,these shops must loose so much money ,with people walking out leaving goods behind or not even ,the assistant can not look out for all tills at once its inpossible, and i expect the assistant will get the blame when someone walks out without paying .

Brian. You have made the first comment that no-one can disagree with.

laurernce miller says:
27 April 2011

As an 84year old male shopper, I would hate to lose the manned/womaned checkout, the delights of waiting while the staff chat to each other from till to till, or where a supervisor comes to your till and holds everything up while ‘essential’ paperwork is completed or where you have just stopped at a till when the ‘Sorry, this station closed’ notice appears. Some staff are indeed helpful and friendly, whilst others appear to have the philosophy – ‘selling would be great, if it weren’t for the customers!

Gord says:
11 May 2011

As a 67 year old rather uneasy about these self service tills, but occasionally use them.
Used one today at B&Q and it short changed me by £1. The staff gave me the £1 without comment, but i came away feeling like a con man.

Anne says:
20 July 2011

I was in my local Sainsbury’s a few days ago and found that there were four closed tills, six unused self-scanners, 5 members of staff waiting to assist with the scanners and queues at the open tills !! Doesn’t that tell you something ? I don’t work in a supermarket and don’t want to take the shop assistants jobs away from them, so why can’t we just go back to employees serving customers ????

Self-service checkouts DO suck. Supermarkets seem to be trying to force them on us more and more.Any desperate attempt to try and squeeze more money out of us! If alarge number of cashiers are replaced by self-service checkouts, and the store saves on wages, do you really imagine these savings will be passed on to the desperate shopper? PULEEZE!!!!! The computerised voice telling me that I have something incorrect in the bagging area is enough to drive me insane.

Keith says:
16 August 2012

At my local Tesco they’ve removed 2 manned tills and replaced them with 6 self-service tills. I frequently pop in just to pick up a handful of items, and I’m in and out in minutes. I like them.
My local M&S has got it wrong though as the self service tills are much too close together, so it’s an uncomfortable experience bashing the elbow of the person next to you every 10 seconds. I put up with this because it’s quicker than using the manned tills.
Those people who say they loathe self service tills have a choice. No-one’s forcing them to use them.

Jo says:
2 June 2014

When I shop on my own I use the self-service tills as I can go at my own pace and scan the items through very quickly. However, one thing that I cannot understand is other shoppers misusing the self-service queue as a means of creating another queue to wait for a cashier.
It makes me very uncomfortable to be at a cashier till (if I use one) with a complete stranger standing right behind me IN THE AREA WHERE SELF-SERVICE TILLS ARE to wait for the cashier to finish with me! There is a self-service area why abuse it and get in the way for others who want to use a self-service till? Don’t people understand the inconvenience this causes?

The self-service queue is there for self-service tills, NOT for customers to make another queue to wait for cashiers. This applies to people who clearly don’t care about how rude their actions are. As long as other shoppers remember to use their manners the whole shopping experience will tick over very nicely. If people don’t have any manners then they ought to not expect others to tolerate their rudeness as I for one will not stand for it and I am not afraid to express my dissatisfaction at such impoliteness.

This is really getting beyond a joke. The manned tills are closing earlier in the evening in my local Tesco, forcing customers to use the self-service tills. Admittedly they have improved but I am not the only person who has to wait for assistance when something goes wrong. In attempting to buy about a dozen items recently, the till malfunctioned when scanning five items and the assistant had the same problem. Eventually she left it showing the administrator’s display and I was able to finish scanning the items.

I am not opposed to these machines being provided and they can be useful for small purchases, but we need the option of using manned tills at all times.

micky says:
6 May 2015

I frequently buy a single item in my local convenience store. As I have the correct amount of money I ignore the self service till as it will only ask questions about bags etc, and leave the payment on the manned till, which is just as frequently without a shop assistant to take my payment. I then walk out. Have I and the store met our contractual requirements.