/ Shopping

Can a supermarket work without tills?

Grocery shopping usually ends with a visit to the checkouts and often a bit of queuing… un-till now. Are we ready for a till-less revolution? Do we need one!?

We discussed the prospect of checkout-free supermarkets back in January last year.

Now, Sainsbury’s has announced the trial of the first till-free grocery store in the UK, and I was curious to give it a try.  

Could it live up to its promises of making my shop ‘quicker’ and ‘easier’?

Self-service checkouts have been a staple in most supermarkets for years now, but going completely till-free takes things another step further. Is it a change for the better?

Abby and I set off for a trial run at the till-less store at Holborn Circus. Our race to the finish line consisted of:

🛒 Buying a small shopping list of items; apples, cashew nuts, a cold drink and some tissues

🛒 Trying two methods of payment – Abby would pay with cash at the customer service desk, I would pay with the app

🛒 Declaring the winner as the fastest to complete their shop, pay, and exit the store

We’d both enter the store with the means to pay. With cash, that was fairly straightforward. With the app? Less so.

I needed to download it, register for an account, then enable location services to find the nearest store.

Faster…. kind of

Cash was faster, despite technically there not being a till to accept it (payment was done at a customer service desk). Abby completed her shop in five minutes and 35 seconds, nearly three minutes faster than my eight minutes and 32 seconds.  

Why did my shop take longer? I’d downloaded and registered to use the app in advance, but I did not download and set up my phone to pay with Google Pay. 

This took nearly four minutes, and a bit of juggling to input my card details using my phone’s camera while holding a shopping basket.  

Abby spent approximately three minutes queuing at the customer service desk to pay, while I was able to proceed straight to scan a QR code and pay on my app.  

App-ealling or dis-app-ointing?

Using the app had one key appeal – avoiding the queue. Had I walked in fully ready to pay I would have been both faster than cash, and have avoided the one part of shopping I prefer to avoid.  

It’s also handy to see how much your spend is at all times and not worry about brandishing your wallet in unfamiliar surroundings. You can also scan and bag as you go, making a shopping basket unnecessary for a small shop.

However, I can’t see this working for everyone and, at times, not working for me.

There’s a large technology chain involved to make this shop ‘easy’, including a phone, access to mobile data or WiFi, and being open to sharing your location data. Not everyone will be able to access these resources, or may want to keep their data more private.

My key takeaway is that ‘faster’ and ‘convenient’ are best defined by the shopper. For me that’s less about how I pay, and more about whatever method of payment has the fastest queue.

How do you normally pay for groceries at the supermarket?
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So how would you feel if your local supermarket completely ditched the checkouts and switched to an app? Could you get on board, or would you prefer a more personable shopping experience? Should we resist changes like this, or are they the future?


I don’t have a smartphone therefore no app so this would be useless. Cash or bank card is the only way I could use the self-checkout.

Sue Newbury says:
11 May 2019

I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t like using self checkouts because I feel I’m helping to keep somebody unemployed. I shop at the same supermarket most of the time and have got to know some of the staff. We have a pleasant chat.

roy says:
13 May 2019

I’m another of the non smartphoners, but chats hold up queues which can be annoying.

When a supermarket is busy and there are long queues at all the open tills, self-service tills can be a great convenience as well as the fastest way to pay.

John S says:
11 May 2019

I know lots of people with smart phones, some of whom it is hard to hold a conversation with if they have their phone in their hand.
But neither my wife or I have a smart phone. Neither has my brother or at least 10 close friends I can immediately think of. I have no intention of ever using any additional self service facilities beyond petrol stations.
If these companies have their way, life will be empty.

Les says:
11 May 2019

keep people in employment ditch the ap! I refuse to use the scanners as well much prefer the human touch at the checkout

We need tills in supermarkets not everyone can use a smartphone.

Mrs Margaret Williams says:
12 May 2019

I do not have a smart phone and find these innovations frightening. I am 92 and happy to use a computer but learning to use a smart phone is beyond me. Tillless shops would ban me from shopping.

I thought the Govt mantra was ‘Choice’. If that is the case why not both forms of check out? The other aspect is if self checkout is the only option, it could be bad for business, but also exclude those folks without smart Mob, the elderly who may find the handling and paying a bit confusing or they are not physically flexible enuff to do the scanning and handling, maybe because of arthritis, or post stroke etc. The point is that it is business that is driving these changes to make it easier for them and for profit when it requires less staffing. It is not exactly the same as social media where we do have a choice to be on it or out of it so why is choice being taken away from us by big business!

I hate the bloody self service, whats wrong with employing people,and i would like to be able to kick it

Eileen Roberts says:
12 May 2019

I might have known this would come. First the Supermarkets built more and bigger places and killed off the High Street small shops ,then started adding a few self service tills (which I would never use ) then came the remote control (never used ) then more self service and so it goes on .Well I would never intentionally put anyone out of work so if this carries on I will order on line, that .way somebody still has a job packing my requirements and a driver to deliver it. No wonder we are all getting over weight if we don’t have jobs and mental problems because we don’t see anyone except the delivery man who doesn’t have time to talk, and that’s when mistakes are made. This money grabbing makes me so angry .

Every store has more tills than they ever use. I have never seen any store ever, where all the tills were in use. I am happy to use any of the payment methods. Let’s say that in the interests of customer service keep all the methods and let the customer choose.

I guess you’ve never shopped on Christmas Eve 😉

You still need assistance when purchasing restricted goods (alcohol and anything with security tags) so does that mean staff have to access your app/phone? I am also very wary of prejudicing phone security.
I agree that customers might benefit from a choice of payment methods but most definitely must not have such schemes imposed arbitrarily across the board.

The interesting thing was they sold no age restricted products. I do think this could ever work in only a very limited number of locations.

I may be a dinosaur but I would not want to use a supermarket without a checkout. I feel strongly that checkout operation is a type of employment that should not disappear because it is accessible to some people who might need the job. It is about human beings providing a service, not just everyone rushing about and people being replaced with technology. Sounds very Luddite but I always use a personned checkout on principle, unless I have only a very few items and the queues are just too daunting. I also would not like to lose the supermarket checkout because that is where I usually obtain cash, through the “cashback” facility, since my only local bank branch closed down last October. Considering your campaign about disappearing ATM machines you seem to have overlooked this useful alternative way of topping up on the folding stuff.

This is another extension of the creeping death of customer service – I visited a Derby Sainsburys this weekend and, as well as the self-service tills, a new set of QI Code terminal tills have been installed. Very few of the normal tills were manned. Those that remained had queues of full trollies and those of us with small baskets are obliged to use the self-service tills. Where has the personal service gone: “Would you like any help with packing sir?”; Would you like any cash back?”
Note that normal tills utilise the supermarkets pay and verification data services. They have now found a way to use the customers’ data allowance to verify and approve payments.
I have enough trouble with the established self-service tills: “Unexpected item in bagging area!”; “Please wait for assistance”; without risking problems when using my own phone.
Please campaign to keep manned tills!

I would always want a manned till if I had a full trolley as the self-service tills don’t have enough space.

When there are long queues, it is always worth an “Excuse me, can you open another till please?” to the checkout operator or floor supervisor. They usually oblige.

“…not worry about brandishing your wallet in unfamiliar surroundings…” I’d rather this, than brandishing a £700+ smartphone in public.

“So how would you feel if your local supermarket completely ditched the checkouts and switched to an app?” I’d switch supermarkets. Personally, I’m pushing back on smartphone apps if only because of the valuable storage space they occupy. Then there are the privacy considerations.

I agree with most of what has been already said. We MUST have choice, not be bulldozed into needing/using smart phones. Many cannot afford them, do not need them or find them difficult to operate.

Sue Simpson says:
15 May 2019

Scanners are ok if you just want to buy a couple of things. But trying to buy even a small trolley of groceries and juggle with your phone and make sure you’ve got a secure connection and a full battery is a step too far. Let’s keep the human touch with real people serving at tills.

Stu says:
16 May 2019

I will not use an App. Appreciate the social interaction of dealing with a real person. I would not shop in a supermarket without these facilities. Beware! supermarkets

chris Lamberton says:
16 May 2019

I would not go near a supermarket (or any other shop) with no tills! I refuse to use self checkouts too. These devices are designed for the store’s convenience, not the shopper. How does this system cope with restricted items, such as alcohol etc?

I agree with many who say they will not use self operated checkouts as they do not wish to put people out of work. Another consideration is that the checkout employees have been trained and they know where bar codes are and how to scan and will do it in far less time than I will. Basically the supermarket is making me work for them for free (if I use the self scan checkout) but I do not believe the cost saving is being passed to me. I strongly suspect it is being given to the company directors in bonuses as well as shareholders in dividends.

I’m content to take my car to self-service petrol stations, so also I don’t mind using other self-service facilities, when those help me to get lower prices or faster service.

I’m also just old enough to be able to remember the interest and excitement that was caused in my town by the opening of its first self-service supermarket.

Before that mode of grocery shopping became the norm, visits to the grocers required queuing to be served, then the grocery staff would collect ones’ shopping, e.g. from the shelves behind them or from the deli counter, where they sliced our bacon to order.

Home delivery shopping was done by writing out a shopping list in my mother’s grocery book. That then went to the grocer, who later came round in his van, to deliver the shopping.

White goods and other large appliances were always delivered too. I think most of them came on sale or return, in effect we got a month’s free trial, after which we could return any that were unsatisfactory.