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Do you swear at self-service checkouts?

Self-service checkout

Frustration with self-service checkouts has led to a third of British shoppers swearing at these machines. Have you reached the end of your tether with a self-service checkout?

Around eight in 10 people have used a self-service checkout in the last few months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t bleeping annoying.

Our survey of more than 7,000 Brits found that a third get loose with the f-word when they use self-service checkouts.

Throwing out the f-bombs

Sometimes when I hear ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’, all I want to say back is ‘I’ll give you an unexpected item in your bagging area!’ But then, I’m not one for public displays of anger. I try to remain stoic when I’m out shopping, and if I have one tip to share, it’s that listening to a few tunes on my headphones is enough to calm me down and drown out the drones of these machines.

Of course, not everyone f’s and blinds. Instead, more than a quarter of Brits just shout at self-service checkouts, while half admit to having talked back to one. There’s something wrong with the world if we’re talking back to machines, but maybe that’s better than our fellow humans bearing the brunt of our swears.

Why use machines?

Still, if so many of us find these machines so frustrating, why do we bother using them? Well, according to our survey, it’s mainly for convenience. Nearly half think self-service checkouts are quicker and easier to use than normal checkouts, and 27% prefer to use the machines so that they don’t have to deal with staff!

Are you a fan of self-service checkouts? Have you ever lost your temper with them?

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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When I worked as a manager at ***** back in 2006 we had 4 self-scan and 2 normal tills.

Yes everyone shouted at them (including staff, but we did not swear), but we also had people putting stuff though as “apples” or my fave “bread roll” for 9p instead of scanning the item.

But even worse is the first self-scan tills we got did not even have chip & pin on them. So you swiped your credit/debit card and it was paid. No pin number needed and yes, we had alot of stolen cards being used.

Since leaving ***** I admit I have sworn at them a few times myself as a consumer. Plus I have even used the ***** code to go into “staff mode” when I use them as they stress me out so much”.

I have gone to the SS till twice in the last year because I had only a few items. On neither occasion was I allowed to just get on with it and complete the process before a bossy SS assistant started to take over and reorganise my shopping. Hence I have not quite mastered the art of doing it in smooth and silent style. I haven’t actually uttered an expletive yet but I have vowed to continue patronising the staffed checkouts; it’s even put me off using the portable scanning devices as I’ve seen staff hovering ready to pounce at the slightest sign of hesitation in completing the download and payment process.

I like them! They are much more convenient than manned tills and I very rarely have problems with them. I think a lot of the complaints are from people who don’t bother to find out how they work. Even better is the Fast Track system at Sainsbury’s which makes use of hand-held scanners.

I don’t like shopping and the self-service tills in Tesco do not make the experience any better. When they were installed, I worked out that if I started by scanning something containing alcohol, this summoned a member of staff and all that was needed to get my groceries scanned was to pretend to be very confused. 🙂

My other ruse has been to turn up with a large trolley load of shopping late in the evening. If it is quiet, one of the assistants usually opens a till specially for me – and gets profuse thanks.

PeterM says:
23 February 2014

Hate them, mostly because at my local Asda they

(1) don’t hold any 50p or 10p coins, so spit out 5p and 20p {and I dislike the tiny 5p as they can most easily fall through any holes in my pockets into jacket linings, for example)

(2) are incredibly impatient, complaining about me needing to place the item in the bagging area (when I am just deciding which of 2 bags to put something in)… I am not particularly slow, but you seem to get only 4 seconds before it starts this complaint…

(3) cannot handle reduced items very well. Partly because of the way the replacement labels are put on, in some cases, but other times, just refuse to read the barcode at all (ink running out?)

(4) have cut jobs – several of the checkouts were replaced by SS with conveyor belt for trolley users. They did this not long before Christmas and caused lots of queues, because some of the belts stopped running. When it got to Christmas, they had staff manning those devices, to get the items past the scanner faster than customers (in general) were able to do. Some days when I pop in, none of the older regular checkout tills have any staff, and they have one (or sometimes 2) staff assisting at the SS machines, which can lead to delays if someone has clothing and someone else has alcohol, where the security tags need to be removed or authorisation given… and then you can bet your life that the run out of bags at one of the 12 SS machines (with no belt, but grouped together so people are in a rather confined space between 2 rows of 6 machines).

Most times when I go there, if I happen to walk towards a checkout that has staff, and am only carrying a basket, I get ‘requested’ to use the SS machines by someone in customer services who walks along where the older checkouts are, presumably to ensure only those with trolleys get to speak to a human.

Add to this the fact that while they have a couple of coffee machines (I had hoped they would give a freebie cup but ‘free’ is not in their vocabulary) you can only pay for a drink (and collect a cup) from one of the ‘manned’ checkouts, so I may ‘fib’ next time someone directs me to use the SS machine, and explain I may be buying a coffee at the ‘manned’ checkout.

Swear at them? No, I don’t swear audibly, and most of the time, they work fine, but there must be at least once a week when I would be quite happy for them all to have system failures, if only to remind the bosses that while they may save on staff costs, customers are not ALL happy to use these horrid machines ALL the time.

Having failed miserably to get a mix of DIY goods, including timber, through a B&Q self service checkout I was sorely tempted to swear. I should emphasis I don’t normally swear at all, but I was severely tested by the machines interaction with me as I was scanning the timber. It was difficult to manoeurve to scan the barcode and needed to be placed in a special area as it was impossible to fit into a bag. Problem, the machine kept insisting that a bag had to be used. I avoid SS like the plague.

The B&Q self-service checkout probably has a hand-held barcode scanner to avoid the need to do acrobatics with lengths of timber and other large objects.

Fortunately, not all B&Q stores have self-service tills.

I have found my nearest B & Q staff not very helpful at the SS checkout. You almost have to drag them over to assist. Last time I shopped there there was no one manning a checkout so you were forced to go through SS. I avoid the shop now.

It would be good if you could turn off the chirpy nagging voice that tells you to “please scan the barcode” when you’ve been trying to do that for about a week.

Used them hundreds of times – never had a problem, never had an ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ message, helps me get through quicker – the whole controversy / debate about these things is becoming a set of cliches.


Tut, tut, Patrick. I assume ‘… you’re write, …’ should be ‘… you’re right, …’ Having problems with autocorrect are you?

Steve Smith says:
24 February 2014

I once got really annoyed with one at Asda and asked the member of staff how they have the nerve to call them “Fast Lanes”. She said “Who calls them that?” I told her there are continual recorded announcements saying “Thank you for using the Fast Lane”. She said, “Oh, I’m too busy to listen to that”! She was VERY busy sorting out bagging area problems but only because she and her colleagues throughout the country can’t be bothered to go through the customer experience themselves and get it sorted.

Self service tills do seem to be inherently troublesome, and a member of staff usually has to be in attendance ready for the next pronblem. The hand held scanner as used by Waitrose is far and away the best method of all. I have used this system for years and have experienced very few problems.

I hear that Sainsbury now has a similar system but I’ve never used it so I can’t compare it with the Waitrose one.

Our nearest supermarket is a Tesco superstore selling everything from dolls’ eyes to fly-papers so it’s attractive to children and people with not much else to do. They recently introduced a self-scanning system which also seems to be popular with children who are entrusted to do the scanning.The scanning download & payment area has taken a large coralled chunk out of the store but always looks chaotic and seems to absorb quite a few staff on constant duty. The biggest problem for me with this system [which I don’t use because I don’t want to register and start becoming a regular customer] is that Tesco’s have fitted a big rubber scanner-holder to the handle of every trolley; this sticks out towards the customer and on more than one occasion it has jabbed me in the midriff [just above the bagging area thankfully]. I can’t understand why these holders could not have been fitted the other way round so they do not project towards the customer – there doesn’t appear to be any technical reason and the trollies would look better for it [if that carries any weight].

I’m more than somewhat surprised by Richard’s comment that self service tills are inherently troublesome. I use them a lot and do not often see people having problems with them nor do I suffer problems very often myself. Most problems seem to be associated with ‘first time’ users learning how to drive them or the odd troublesome product. The main occupation of the member of staff in attendance is usually to deal with items needing approval, such as alcohol.

By the way, Richard, Sainsbury’s has had the Fast Track system based on hand-held scanners operating for many years. I find it to be my preferred method of shopping.

Just used a self-service till for the first time, our local supermarket has replaced the 10 item checkouts with self service ones.

10 items took 3 assistant interventions mainly ” please take last item out of bag” it didnt like us putting heavy items like milk in ???, and they cant give you the money back for the car parking voucher or of course give cashback .

Probably quicker at busy times otherwise I’d rather queue and have a chat with the till operator.

I seem to have experienced most of the difficulties already described. These self-checkouts I had thought were for folk with a few items but have been sadly corrected. People with trolleys loaded to the top use them. They system is then really slowed down, placing only a few items on the side for “goods yet to be scanned” and then having to place them in the “carrier bag” side. There is no room for a large number of items. Only if there are two people to operate the system: one placing the goods on the unscanned side and another actually doing the scanning and packing can there be anything like a normal speed. Note, I say normal speed when these checkouts are deemed to be “quick”. My idea would be these should only be used for 5 or under items to ensure a quick throughput. Lets face it, the 10 items or under system was always abused with folk loading up their baskets so making it 5 would perhaps encourage folk to stick to no more than 10. The public being very fickle in that it’s okay for me to break the rules but other folk should adhere to them.

I agree space is limited even when using a basket and when I used the self-service till again today I found it difficult to stop my bag from falling off the bag area which is tiny and not well suited to anything but a standard disposable plastic bag..

If your bag does fall out, do you get a message such as ‘Expected item not in bagging area’? 🙂

It occurred to me when I last observed the SS check-outs in Sainsbury’s that the process wasn’t doing much to reduce the use of plastic bags. Tesco at least seem to have a stash of pre-used ones for both the self-scanning and the self-service channels. Not that people necessarily want to re-use a pre-used bag – it seems they nearly always take a virgin bag.

What annoyed me most when the self-service checkouts appeared in my local Tesco was that if I tried to use my own bag the confounded machine kept instructing me to remove the unexpected item. Eventually a button appeared on the screen, which allows customers to use one or more bags, providing that they are deployed at the start of the process. It amazes me that the designer had not though that customers might want to bring their own bags. 🙁

PeterM says:
27 February 2014

Have to admit not to use local Tesco Metro/Express (smaller store) in local shopping mall as the whole place is only open until 17:30 and I am sometimes getting off train 2-3 hours later, but I am wondering whether there is similar use of “pre used” bags back in Wales.

As some of you may know, in Wales there has been a carrier bag charge in ALL shops for quite a few years now. It is levied at 5p per bag, and the money goes to charity. Not sure what they do in WHSmith (since I found to my annoyance when spending over a tenner for a specialist computing magazine, that they add 1p for their cheapest, flimsy bag. OK, means they perhaps need fewer pennies to give in change, but do they now charge 6p)….

In my local Iceland, when someone wants a home delivery, they seem to half-fill about a dozen plastic bags as if they had no cost (or maybe staff consider they have been made thinner and thinner and it saves delivery person from having a bag split and food need replacing?)

Can anyone remember what the situation is regarding plans to charge for bags in England? I often take some that I have indoors from Asda, especially if I am visiting Lidl or Aldi (where both charge for their own bags, and lots of people seem to just ‘expect’ it), but it came up in Parliament recently and I think it was rejected or postponed for a while…

However, it begs the question what would Tesco do if they are putting a mix of unused and pre-used bags out… will they charge for them all, and how will people who bring their own be accommodated – maybe the ‘new’ bags would have to go on the ‘basket’ side and be scanned by customers, and charged for, with their own or pre-used on the ‘bagging area’ with no payment expected ?

So far as I recall, the government warned the supermarkets a few years ago that, unless they cut drastically the number of free plastic bags issued, sanctions would ensue. So the retailers did . . . with cheap ‘bags for life’ and much stronger ‘advertising’ bags at low prices suddenly becoming available at the checkouts. This worked for a time, but recently it was reported that plastic bag issues in England have gradually crept back to a high level again. It seems people are now using them to put their items in before putting them in their strong bags, and huge quantities of plastic bags are being used to speed up the home delivery operation by reducing the number of ‘units’ loaded into each crate and having to be decanted on arrival. I guess that the pre-used bags that are available at in-store checkouts haven’t actually been used by other customers for their shopping [or brought back with the home delivery crates] but are left-overs from the packs that are hung up at the tills so they are, to all intents and purposes, virgin bags. As such, they would count in the statistics and, ultimately, be liable to the bag levy if the government introduced it in England. The threat keeps recurring, then the retailers moderate consumption, and the issue rolls into the long grass again. Never mind that our roadsides, hedgerows and watercourses are littered with millions of shredded carrier bags and that wildlife is being harmed, or that their production is harmful to the planet, the overwhelming desire to have a brand new plastic bag each time prevails and the stores gratify this behaviour. The bags that customers send back with the home delivery crates are merely added to the in-store recycling system and thus artificially boost the company’s ‘green’ credentials.

I don’t see an easy solution, John. I have met some responsible parents that have done their best to bring their kids up to be aware of environmental issues, though I am not sure if this has a long-lasting effect.

Restrictions can encourage hoarding and I have often seen shoppers grabbing handfuls of extra bags in supermarkets, after putting all their shopping in bags. Supermarkets can just pass on the cost of plastic bags to customers, so there is not any great incentive to deal with the problem.

I agree, the Waitrose system is great, and the Sainsbury SS machines are fine. But the self-scan in the Co-op is very annoying! The voice is constantly telling you what to do next when you’ve already done it, and all the way through the SS process it is one step behind. Irritating!

At least at our SS tilss ( Booths) there is no voice, just screen messages.
Most locals here have never used a SS till before so a short training video would probably have been very useful.

Regarding bag usage in Wales – there has been a radical (95% +) in their use in Wales since the 5p bag charge. It will be coming to England soon, I’m sure.

It hasn’t raised as much as was hoped for environmental causes because of the dramatic reduction – but hey – usage is way down.

Joe – St. Asaph, Wales.

Pls ignore my last as I missed a word – here is a corrected version.

Regarding bag usage in Wales – there has been a radical (95% +) reduction in their use in Wales since the 5p bag charge. It will be coming to England soon, I’m sure.

It hasn’t raised as much as was hoped for environmental causes because of the dramatic reduction – but hey – usage is way down.

Joe – St. Asaph, Wales.

carrier bags incl 5p in selling price when introduced years ago now they state customer service = 5p, so after how much groceries get ruined sfter checkout due to dropping etc? also see the ladies carrying a new dress etc in the poring rain, come use ones sence, the price of oil will jot go down due to non use of the By-product.

Allan says:
28 February 2014

Nobody seems to have taken on board the social implications on the increasing use of such SS machines – which is that such automation will inevitably decrease employment opportunities to the detriment of society. For this reason I refuse to use them.

Tend to agree with you Allan. I’m happy to pay a bit extra if it is going to go towards keeping a youngster, or indeed anybody, in work.

Nicky says:
28 February 2014

Our large tesco introduced the scanners which you use as you shop last year. So I tried it as I had used Sainsburys previously. They queue to use the tills was long and finally when it was my turn, the assistant said it would need a security check. All of my shopping was unpacked and rescanned. I was told I had not scanned the cucumber and milk which I knew I had. They then put the scanner back through the till and when I checked the receipt, lo and behold – I had been charged twice for the cucumber and milk. I was made to feel as if I was being accused of shoplifting. I never got a single apology fro the 2 staff involved.

I’ve never used it there since as I find trying to pack bags in the trolley as you go around is more difficult.

However I do use the self scan at my local tesco express for buying odds and ends which is much easier. At B&Q it is easy if you only have a few items, but a trolley load needs two people to make it easier. I often find a real assistant is faster than me.

Rachael says:
28 February 2014

What I can’t understand with the Self Serve is that I always will use a Large bag of my own – that will have been purchased via a store and being environmentally friendly. Hessian or similar. The machine never accepts them – so it always has to be verified by a member of staff. Surely if it is available for purchase through a store – then the weight of the said bag should be acknowledged?
I am in favour of the Self Serve but if it is having a bad day – then it seems to require store verification for everything – and you spend more time waiting for the member of staff to verify, that going through a normal check out.
One other question is – why at busy times are the basket only check outs closed?

Rachael – I used to have the same problem but my local Tesco did an update of its software and a button appeared on the screen inviting customers to say if they had brought their own bags. I have not heard the ‘Unexpected item….’ message very often since then.

About the only thing I like about these machines is that I can get rid of lots of change without embarrassment – when no-one is waiting of course.

Rachael says:
1 March 2014

At Sainsbury’s my local store they do have a question on the menu. “Have you used your own bag?” Yes – then you enter the amount of your own bags used, but it then never likes the large bag. Store verification required. The member of staff – swiped their over ride card and does just what I had done. “Store Verification required.” Aghhhh!

I usually bring my own bags or occasionally just a backpack. Inevitably the ‘unexpected item’ message comes on. On the last occasion it happened I vowed never to use them again and walked out leaving the shopping in the basket. If a third of British shoppers are having difficulties I suggest the stores either explain to people the correct way to use SS through TV ads perhaps or failing that completely redesign the ruddy things to make them more user friendly.