/ 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

I find that self-service scanners, like those in Waitrose, are the best way to shop. They must trust their customers not to “forget” to scan any items – maybe not all supermarkets feel the same way. The very occasional rescan is a small inconveneince considering how much easier it is overall.

Diane says:
29 January 2011

I work on self service checkouts, and yes they can be annoying. However sometime customers are at fault, they do not help themselves, if you take it steady and watch the screen yopu should have no problems, the problems are that children sit on the bagging area or customer put the items straight into their bags instead of the bagging area. Please dont shout at the person trying to help you and is also being diplomatic in not blaming you, just try it , remember a smile and thankyou costs nothing.

I agree with you Diane, but please don’t you forget that not all stores are the same and neither are all of these machines. In many stores (see last year’s extensive thread on this for examples from the Co-op and B&Q) there are no alternative (manned) tills at all at some times and sometimes there is ONE assistant trying to look after up to 8 self service tills.
This is not only guaranteed to cause issues and bad feeling from customers but it is also grossly unfair on that one assistant, who ends up taking the flak for mean and penny pinching policies.
These tills are outright bad and there is no argument to be had about that if we look at it form the point of view of the staff, be it those who lose their jobs and are replaced by machines, those who have to deal with angry customers, those who are over-worked by being tasked to over-see an unreasonable number of the machines at once or simply those who’s excellent customer service skills are wasted by not being able to do the job they are best at.

I hate self-service checkouts, but my local Tesco closes their attended checkouts at 11 pm. If I’m shopping at that time it is because it is because I have too much to do and too little time. The last thing I need is the frustrations and delays that usually result.

If someone comes to help I am polite and thankful, especially if they stay and put my basket of groceries through the scanner. It is clear that most of the staff who look after these self-service checkouts hate them as much as me.

Me and her says:
3 February 2011

We work in a deprived area and the main reason self scan checkouts are used is because it’s easy to nick stuff.
I can serve 5 customers on a conventional till b4 1 customer can serve themself.On a self scan you still have to have a cashier to overide alcohol/video and other age related sales. Super markets are making such vast profits that they can afford to lose stock in this way and expoiting their staff is just another way to jack up their profits. Refuse to use self scan and protect local jobs. Don’t be so selfish that a minute you may save will cost a job.

I have tried to use so called self-service checkouts on several occasions. Each time I have had to have the help of a staff member because of ‘unexpected items.’ I would leave my shopping and walk out now before I would use one again. They are so slow it is quicker to stand in the queue and wait your turn. The hand scanners at Waitrose sound like a good idea but we don’t have Waitrose where I live.

Rachel says:
4 February 2011

I use self service checkouts occasionally when I only have a very few items and the queues are too long at the tills. I don’t like the lack of human contact, I quite like to chat or share a few words with the cashier having done supermarket till work as a student, its nice when someone is pleasant to you. I am also concerned that they might increase unemployment.

I can’t stand the robotic voice ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ etc and the loud electronic noise that goes with it. It echoes around the stores horribly. We have too much noise/ hassle stress already in our lives in our current society, I don’t feel that we need it increased all the more when we go shopping.

Like others above I also find that they are very inconvenient if you have a lot of shopping, the bagging area doesn’t cope with more than a couple of bags as you cant take them off and put them in the trolley until you have paid for everything. The children like them though, if I have the kids with me I let them put the goods through and put the cash in as it is good experience for them and they cope better with the technology than me!!!

7 February 2011

I boycott the local Asda because of the self- checkout machines.
That beeping and rough talk by the stroppy machine really gives me a headache!
Instead I pay more in a local shop –
It’s so much more fun to chat and say’ hi’ to people I know and to bump into friends.

I complained repeatedly to Asda about not having enough staffed self-checkouts open.
They don’t give you a choice.
But Asda simply ignored me.
So I ignore Asda.

Reebaman says:
11 February 2011

I shop at Waitrose but I guess they must be trying to pressurise customers into using self service checkouts as they seriously understaff the staffed (or should that be unstaffed?) checkouts just like Consumer’s experience of Asda. The best action is to leave a full trolley of shopping in one of the checkout aisles and then disappear to shop at another supermarket although I admit that is not always convenient in terms of time wasted. A retired supermarket manager told me that this really annoys the store management as they then have to restock the items from the abandoned trolley.

As for Waitrose being top of the bunch in terms of customer service, well what a laugh. I am still waiting for sensible responses to complaints/queries made nearly a year ago. As Waitrose tries to emulate Tesco by matching prices and reducing quality (viz their Essential range) so their service quality drops. Do they care? Clearly not.

As I posted at length on last year’s convo on this subject, I agree entirely with all the points made above against SS checkouts, but on top of them I have another fundamental objection which few other people seem to have raised: Equality and Disability Discrimination:
I have cards which have to be signed for rather than a PIN due to a sight disability. These cards need a human operator. SS tills simply cannot cope with this. Ergo stores which force you to use SS tills appear to me to be guilty of disability discrimination.
I would also point out that people with physical disabilities may well also have trouble if they are either in a wheelchair, on a frame or have impaired use of their arms.

Frank says:
17 February 2011

The contention that using self service puts people out of work is a form of reasoning that taken to its logical conclusion leads us back to the cave man era.

If you choose to forego self service then ask yourself this:

Do you use a washing machine at home? Doesn’t that take jobs away from washerwomen/men?
Do you use a car? Aren’t you responsible for all the jobs lost in the horse/cart/carriage industry?
What about your computer?
How about learning how to read and write, didn’t you take jobs away from scribes?

Allan Hodgkinson says:
27 February 2011

I am disabled and in a wheelchair. I usually only buy small numbers of items so I try to avoid the long queues at normal checkouts. As supermar kets have phased (by never opening them) basket checkouts I oftenend up using self service checkouts. For a wheechair user the ones in M&S and Tesco are just usable but my local Morrisons in Bracknell has just installed self service checkouts and they are all but unusable from a wheelchair. Do/should supermarkets have a duty of care to ensure that when they deploy new technology it should be usable by all of their customers?

Self-service checkouts are always supervised, so just ask for help. If this is declined you can contact the company’s head office and remind them about the Disability Discrimination Act, but I don’t think this will be necessary. Plenty of people who struggle with self-service checkouts are given help even if they are not disabled.

Oliver says:
13 March 2012

I am interested in the self-checkout machine. I would like to know some suppliers or producers of self-checkout machine.

Having spent over £100 we don’t see why we should have to do all the work ourselves so we avoid the SS Checkouts [this is sounding a bit sinister]. It’s bad enough at a staffed checkout getting all the products in the right bags, must be a nightmare at an SS machine. Even a basket load can be around thirty items in several different categories. I don’t mind how long the checkout process takes when we do a major shop – as a percentage of the overall trip time it’s not significant; more time is wasted hunting for stuff that has been moved to a new aisle. It seems to me that most people using the SS Checkouts are using a large number of new plastic bags rather than reusing large capacity strong bags.