/ Shopping

Should self-service be the future of shopping?

Man with a barcode on his head

Regulars to this site may remember a popular Conversation about self-service checkouts we ran in last year. Your enthusiasm for the subject inspired our researchers to include it in their annual supermarket survey.

When we asked you about self-service checkouts in July we got an avalanche of responses.

Spurred on by the strength of opinion, we made this part our annual supermarket survey and found that most of you would prefer to interact with a human being and use the conventional checkouts over self-service.

However, some of us are clearly in two minds about the whole thing. Half of us who use them think they are convenient and save time, which suggests we’d like to have the choice. And one of the themes from your comments was that they’re useful for a few items.

We also found out that you’re keen on other kinds of technology – 90% of you who’ve tried handheld scanners like them, for example. One reader told us: ‘Waitrose’s self-scan system is 100% better than any self-checkout system I have ever used. It is quick and simple and no unexpected items.’

I’m definitely one of the self-service confused – they drive me slightly up the wall and yet, like a moth to the flame, somehow I’m always using them. I look at the queue, feel like it might be quicker, and forget how much I hate being ordered around by a robotic woman.

Where do you, ahem, stand? Do you opt for the speed of self-service or wait around until a cashier becomes free? Or would you prefer it if supermarkets went with handheld scanners?


I would not shop at a store that did not have human cashiers – period. It may be fine for a couple of items but not for a full weeks shopping. Sainsburys is fast on the way to losing my custom after 35 years.because of its profiteering. There is always a long queue in front of the only human cashier – So they don’t care what the customer wants.

We are getting far too insular – I want interaction.- and service.

Frankly I’d sooner order on-line.

D.George says:
3 February 2011

Right on.
Self service checkouts increase unemployment and we end up paying the dole money of those put out of work by these machines.

Carla Thompson says:
26 January 2011

I do all my shopping at either Sainsbury’s or Waitrose because their staff are always friendly and helpful. I do use self-checkout when I have only few items. It is quick. If I occasionally have to shop at Tesco’s I don’t mind using the self checkout because, unfortunately, their staff are very much like machines. I prefer the personal touch and am very aware that self checkouts will reduce employment opportunities.

Sue Shaw says:
26 January 2011

I agree with Carla, I do most of my shopping at Sainsbury’s and also it is the most convenient store for me. Tesco’s is also convenient but I try to avoid it for the same reasons as Carla. It is impossible to use their self service systems when you have more than a few items because there is not enough room for more than two bags and it becomes very difficult. I wish I had a Waitrose near by. Their hand held scanners are much easier, especially if I have a lot of shopping and that robotic woman doesn’t drive you mad.

pickle says:
26 January 2011

I prefer human contact at the check-out. Any problems can be sorted quickly. When it comes to other shops than supermarkets – there is no doubt that personal service is best and that is why I prefer High street shops..

Sharon Sawyers says:
26 January 2011

Self service checkouts are fine for a few items, however I would hate to have to use them if I was doing a full family weekly shop as there is never enough room for more than two bags of shopping.


I personally find the systems in Tesco, Sainsburys etc very annoying – most of the time they come up with errors due to my reusable bags, or I have to wait for a member of staff to authorise alcohol or vouchers. These systems are clearly designed purely to save money – customer experience isn’t on the agenda.

The one exception to this in my experience is Waitrose. The hand-held scanners genuinely make shopping easier. You pack items as you go, and paying is very quick. The one-off initial registration means you don’t have to get authorisation with alcohol, plus it is very easy to change your mind and remove items as you shop. Top marks to Waitose for making my shopping experience better.


I tend to use the self-service checkouts when I only have a few items (by ‘few’ that measurement for me it is less then 1 basket). If I do a ‘big shop’ then it’s to the staffed checkouts I head.

I really don’t have a problem with the self checkouts until there is a problem. it may be something like I have purchased a reduced item but the cheaper price has not come up, after scanning an item I’ve bagged it up but the machine doesn’t think I have or I may have purchased some booze – in these instances I seem to have to wait an age for the member of staff to notice I’ve got a problem, or they are dealing with problems for 1 or 2 other people. in these instances I get very annoyed.

mike says:
28 January 2011

I would never use this type of checkout,reasons are that they are only brought in to reduce staffing levels,so store makes more profits,remember these checkouts dont need holidays teabreaks etc,or any wages,i worked in retail for 43 years last 20 being a store manager,please please dont use them it will only result in less staff ,i.e people loosing there jobs