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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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Rhoda says:
28 February 2014

Yes, I frequently shout at SS machines! Particularly as I always get ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ as I always bring a reusable cloth bag (from Tesco)! Then the assistant comes to verify the bag and as soon as she goes the darned machine objects to some item it can’t identify – and the assistant is summoned again! When SS machines first arrived I thought they would be the perfect answer to long queues – but, sadly, they’re not!

I hate using them with a passion and have managed to avoid them for most of the time they have been in existence as my past experiences have been painful. My local Asda store is open 24 hours, but after 10pm they have a store policy of not providing ANY staff for the tills, which forces customers to use the self service tills.

On my last visit I had no option but to do a fairly major shop late at night as we had just got back from holiday and had nothing fresh in the house…but even though the store was empty it still took me 20 minutes to process my items through the till, and that was with a member of staff assisting me (they would have been a bigger help if they had simply opened a till nearby).

Ironically, after spending 20 minutes trying to get my shopping through the till, the automated voice chipped in with ‘Thank you for using the FAST LANE’ – I happily shared a few choice words with the machine at that point!

David Pittman says:
1 March 2014

When I experience a problem with the sel-service machines I usually commandeer the poor soul who is deputed to give assistance, telling him/her not to go too far away as my shopping bags will continue to give offence to the machine. I have managed to avoid swearing, and so far have also resisted the urge to kick it!

I will not use a self-service checkout no matter how long the queues at the ‘staffed’ stations. I want to be dealt with by a human. From the supermarket’s perspective, self service tills serve only one person – they mean one less wage to pay. Are we not desperately short of jobs, for crying out loud? And surely a checkout job must suit those of us who may want or need part time or unsocial hours? Auto checkout stations should be banned.

I hate using these and avoid them wherever possible. I have even been known to abandon a basket of shopping late at night when I was told only self-service tills are available. I do not like to use plastic bags, but if I put my usual bag, a rucksack, in the bagging area it won’t accept it, which is ridiculous. I very seldom manage to get through one without it requiring assistance, so I prefer manned tills, even with a few items. I don’t think I have ever sworn at one, but they make the shopping experience so unpleasant.

All supermarkets will have to charge 5p per bag from autumn 2015. Can’t understand why it wasn’t introduced earlier.

I loathe SS, and always choose staff tills, unless I’m forced to if shopping late at night. Partly because it’s never a smooth operation, but also because I like dealing with a real human being who chats, answers questions and puts things right. I also object in principle to the way machines are taking over from humans, and will do as much as I can to challenge this.

Just when you think you’ve finally managed to master them, you get unexpected item in the bagging area. What exactly is unexpected about the item of shopping I’ve just scanned?

I think supermarkets should be reducing the bill of everyone that uses them cos clearly we having to test them for them.

I can make them go wrong with just one item, they’ve been programmed so poorly.

And have you noticed that the area you get to put your shopping on after scanning is a fraction of the size of the shopping trollies capacity or the equivalent area at a manned till.

Eric Gendle says:
1 March 2014

We have self scanned at Tesco for some time now without any problems. Very convenient to have several opened bags in the trolley so my wife packs items where she wants them. An improvement would be a printed set of guide notes by the side of the final pay point so one knows what order things may be requested- unscanned items-security tags-own bags-vouchers- how to pay etc.

Joe says:
1 March 2014

They have introduced a self-service till in the W H Smith shop in Manchester Airport. The shop assistant was busier and it took longer to use this system than if she had been behind the counter dealing with us in the normal way.

Since I posted my initial comment yesterday about how I detest them, I visited my local Asda supermarket today and was horrified to see that this week they have replaced a third of all the manned tills with self-service checkouts…so that the self service tills now make up about 40% of all the tills in the store (and it’s a BIG store).

I can’t wait to see the queues build up at the remaining tills, as I think many customers will refuse to use the self service lanes as generally they take far longer and are prone to issues that take ages to resolve.

I can only assume that the store are doing this, not to improve the customer shopping experience, but simply as a way to reduce staff costs…but I am pretty confident it will backfire!

I used these tills a few times, had all the usual problems, needed staff to help me every time. I gave up and have never used them since. If everyone who hates them did the same then I’m sure they would soon disappear – or most of them would.
These self-service tills are badly designed, there are far too many problems with them. Customers should not have to “find out how they work” – it should be really easy.
Trouble is at my local store, if there is a problem at a self-service till, a member of staff from one of the manned tills has to go and sort it – so the customer already at that till has to wait.
Any shop where I am told I must use the self-service till because I only have a basket is going to lose my custom for a long long time!

We used to live in Belgium where Delhaize introduced hand held scanners years ago so we were delighted when Waitrose did the same here. At Christmas, easter etc, they are a godsend. they also allow you to check the price of an item as you go, it alerts you to special offers etc . So none of the underhand price labelling that seems to occur elsewhere.
A periodic audit of re-scanning by the staff seems reasonable as long as its once in a while. And you get a dedicated assistant to help.

From what I have experienced in Tesco , Asda and the like recently, they have a number of staff hanging around to fix the almost routine problems with them – including alcohol purchases. I really do wonder if they save time and money for those supermarkets. Interesting that Aldi do not have them ( to my knowledge) and yet they are clearly low cost providers. There must be a message there.

I have just found a copy of a book entitled ‘Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area’, unloved and unread on my bookshelves. It was someone’s idea of a joke when they heard me ranting about the recently installed self-service checkouts.

Anne says:
1 March 2014

The SS machines in our local supermarket are credt card only. So you can use them to buy an item for £1.20 or to push through a whole trolley load of shopping (even though there’s no space for the trolley in the aisle, they aren’t banned). The tills take so long to clear at lunchtime when everyone is buying sandwiches etc. But I get annoyed at paying by card for low-value shopping that I would rather use cash for. I really wish they had fitted cash and card machines at their refurbishment a couple of years ago.

Been thinking about this. The supermarkets are NOT the bosses here. We – the customers – are. Without us they would all be out of business.

If you don’t like what a supermarket is doing – TELL THEM.

If they don’t change it, tell them you will shop elsewhere – and DO IT.


Remember the most successful customer rebellion of all time – in the 1970s when pubs stopped selling real ale and went over to keg. An organisation was formed to campaign for the return of real ale. And now nearly every pub sells it.

What they did then, we can do now. Shops HAVE to do what their customers want, or go to the wall.

Don’t let them bully you. If you don’t like the machines, don’t use them. If there are long queues for manned tills, complain to the shop. If you are charged extra for using manned tills, refuse to pay. BE PREPARED TO LEAVE YOUR SHOPPING BEHIND AND WALK OUT.

There are lots of other shops. ONLY DO YOUR SHOPPING IN THE ONES THAT TREAT YOU WELL. If your supermarket makes you want to swear, then you are shopping in the wrong place.

I’m not so sure about this, Hazel. Some are fortunate to have access to shops that care for their customers but the supermarkets have put most of them out of business. Sadly, the supermarkets are in control and most people just put up with what they are given. Staff at my local Tesco are genuinely sympathetic to most of my concerns but actually tell me that I will get nowhere by contacting head office. I know that and gave up contacting head office years ago.

CAMRA has done a great job in bringing back real ale, but such is the power of supermarkets that they can put pubs out of business by selling cheap alcohol as a loss leader.

I read recently that Tesco alone had converted 110 pubs to small-format supermarkets over the last two years so the ravage of our traditional shopping and drinking haunts just goes on.

Further to the above, it should be remembered that first the supermarkets killed off the local food shops, then they succeeded in killing off the public houses by selling drink at ludicrously low loss-leader prices. Now they are buying up the closed pubs and turning them into local foodshops. Evolution in the natural world has taken aeons; in the commercial world it has happened overnight relatively speaking. Sorry to keep going off-topic, but the self-service checkout business is just another example of how the major supermarkets are insidiously changing our lives

Alistair MacD says:
1 March 2014

Absolute last resort for me to use these. It is the constant nagging that annoys the most. The option to turn off the ‘helpful’ voice would be the single and easiest thing the supermarkets could provide to make using these checkouts almost bearable. And they don’t save any time by the way. There are often more people waiting to use them than at any of the staffed checkouts. Add to that the likelihood that you will need to have human assistance with at least one item you are buying that the machine doesn’t like and I simply don’t believe that time is saved.

It is hardly surprising to learn that self-service checkouts encourage shoplifting. Here is a recent report: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/household-bills/10603984/Shoppers-steal-billions-through-self-service-tills.html

That is not a problem to the supermarkets because they can pass on the costs to customers as increased prices. Every Little Helps ensure that the shareholders’ dividends are not affected. 🙁

Andy says:
2 March 2014

No humans at tills means no business from me.

Peter Sirrah says:
2 March 2014

I see them as a way for SM’s to cut back on staffing so do not use them on principle unless there is a queue at a staffed checkout and I only have minimum items.

Chris E4 says:
2 March 2014

Shame that they’re not at laid out in a similar manner. Some allow you to put a large trolley of shopping through, some are ridiculously slow e.g. The Co-op.
Some are done at the expense of staffing the checkouts e.g. Sainsburys pre 10.00 am