/ Shopping

Why I hate supermarket self-service checkouts

Waiting at a self-service checkout

Self-service checkouts – they seem to be on an unstoppable rise in supermarkets, banks and other stores. I hate them – am I just a Luddite trying to hold back the tide of progress?

When my mum worked in a grocery shop in the 70s and 80s, the thing she loved most was chatting to the customers – usually prising their life story out of them as she weighed their apples or counted out their change.

One thing I’m pretty sure she never said to them is: ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’!

Why I hate self-service checkouts

I know people who love self-service checkouts, but I’m not one of them. I’m baffled when friends protest that they are quick and easy to use. Whenever I’m in my local supermarket, people are always having to summon help because the machine won’t take their money or their item won’t scan.

And we found that frustration with the machines has led to a third of British shoppers swearing at them.

I personally can’t see how the checkouts save any time at all. And doesn’t it seem odd the idea of having to scan and pack your own food? It’s like going to a restaurant and being invited to cook your own meal (I know there are a few of them around, too!)

It seems that shopping has become less and less personal over the years. From grocery stores to supermarkets, to shopping on the internet and now the expansion of self-service tills, it seems we spend less and less time talking to someone face to face.

That’s why I was so pleased to read that Morrisons is to bring back manned express tills in all its stores.

More personal service

I’m not suggesting that supermarkets should station an equivalent of my mum at every express till in a supermarket – you’d have an interesting time but a long wait to be served! But there must be a happy middle ground between the life story and the self-service checkout.

I was nicely surprised at the weekend when I went to pay for a book, when the woman behind the counter asked if I had read this other book as well, which was similar. For all I know this might have been part of the loathsome new company edict to ‘engage with the public’, but if so it worked. For a few seconds, I felt better about the shop.

Contrast this with my experience in another shop, where customers were urged to use the self-service tills by an assistant who then watched over them while the customer did all the work themselves.

It’s all so different to grocery shopping in America where I was practically told off for attempting to pack my own shopping.

The only good thing about the self-service checkout is that at least they don’t try to sell you half price chocolate or other things you don’t want – well, not yet anyway?

Do you like the convenience of the self-service checkout or would you rather be served by a human being?

Which of these problems do you find using self-service checkouts?

You have to ask for help (24%, 1,048 Votes)

There's always an unexpected item in the bagging area (24%, 1,048 Votes)

Customer does all the work (19%, 836 Votes)

They don't scan items properly (14%, 612 Votes)

You can't use your own bags (9%, 395 Votes)

I don't have any problems. I find them quick and convenient to use (6%, 264 Votes)

Other - tell us in the comments (5%, 222 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,775

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Kevin says:
6 June 2015

I refuse to use the self-service tills as it means less staff employed and in addition I enjoy speaking to the staff as they serve me.

Peter B says:
6 June 2015

I’m sure they mean fewer jobs for people – not great jobs admittedly, but still ways to get money into people’s pockets rather than into corporate bank accounts.

Supermarkets are an important source of part-time work. Some people can only offer twenty hours or so a week because of other commitments and many employers have no place for such arrangements. Loss of part-time work can have a significant effect on families and the economy of whole communities.

Bob says:
7 June 2015

Come on people !! by and large they work and save time.i.e. twelve additional pay points in most stores provide those of us who do not want hand wrapped apples and need to get on quickly.
If you take a 2m pole through ( or even an elephant for goodness sake ) then you will get a problem.
Its a wonder the machine does not swear back !!

Kamal says:
7 June 2015

Hate them with a vengeance. Which moron had the idea? Someone in cost-saving I guess. Frustrating most times. Ok if it is 3 items or less. Well done Morrisons. Will start shopping there

Cho Cho San says:
16 June 2015

The experience of self-scanning varies from extremely frustrating to fast & efficient but it depends on the store used!
I nearly always use the same store & have no difficulty doing a large shop (£150-£200) using self-scanning. I found it invaluable over the winter months when I wanted to reduce my risk of catching infections & I continue to use the system which is quicker & easier. I also pack as I go using my own bags so don’t encounter any problems!

The other problem is that these machines have fairly crude scales and do not notice some items.

Anna Sinclair says:
7 July 2015

I don’t understand why we would want to use these self-service checkouts and make more people redundant.

Anna, We once had assistants behind counters to serve us with goods, and attendants at petrol stations to fill our cars up. And the binmen (refuse operatives) used to collect the bins from your house, not insisting you drag them onto the pavement. How times have changed. Is it better?

Helen says:
14 July 2015

I go through King’s Cross station in London every day and have given up buying anything in Waitrose because they seem to have abandoned all pretence of choice and insist on herding customers to the self-service checkouts. These are overseen by a bored assistant who merely gestures towards the next free machine, then watches you with an expression like a sheep staring over a hedge while you struggle with any gear you are carrying, grapple with the vagaries of the machine, faff around producing your cash or card, and finally if you are lucky the thing will inform you that the transaction is complete and what are you standing there for why don’t you just sod off.

I now go to the M & S which mercifully still provides some human interaction with efficient and cheery staff. And you feel that someone has a job and is getting paid, even if not very much.

It’s all part of the growing trend to make the customer do all the work. My hatred of these things is nothing to do with disliking technology, but the inefficiency and depersonalisation of it all. None of these machines seems to be consistent from shop to shop – they are all configured slightly differently, just enough to wrong foot you.

I don’t think the shops give a damn really; despite all the cuddly advertisements the last thing they care about is their customers, and even less their staff who have to take all the flak for the management’s latest imposition.

Stew says:
21 July 2015

Just shopped at Ikea this evening. Long queue at the staffed checkouts so tried the self service. At the end of the transaction had to wait as I had been randomly selected for a supervisor check. Supervisor arrived and double checked that I had put everything through.
So not only had I selected my items, but put them through the till myself, Ikea then accuse me of being dishonest until they checked!
Never again at Ikea.

HI Folks, new here:

Thought I’d add a new dimension to this debate.

From 5th October England will join NI, Scotland and Wales in making compulsory charges for the supply of carrier bags in large retail stores. Unlike Scotland and Wales the English situation will be complex and perplexing – only applying to stores with more than 250 employees: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/carrier-bag-charges-retailers-responsibilities

That whole issue is worthy of a new discussion, however vis-a-vis self checkouts it’s unclear yet how supermarkets will manage the usage of carrier bags through self-checkout tills.

Will the user have to declare the number of bags used on an honesty basis – or will the self checkout supervisor have to monitor the usage and input a number?

And will the methodology be consistent from store chain to store chain?

Watch this space……


There was a brief discussion of the new bag levy in England in a Conversation entitled “Your view: is your supermarket gripe in the top three?” [11/03/15], and it came up again in another one recently that I now cannot find but it has not been addressed comprehensively and would benefit from a separate Conversation.

As well as the problem you mention about charging for bags at the self-service tills and the self-scan systems. Sainsbury’s have announced [and informed their on-line customers] that they will charge 40p per delivery for the use of bags unless customers opt not to have their shopping in bags. I don’t recall that they have said how goods will be presented in the absence of bags – will they be loose in the totes which will have to be emptied immediately, or will cardboard boxes be used, and what about frozen foodstuffs which are more safely and comfortably handled in bags?

The 40p charge for home deliveries in bags is presumably on the basis that eight bags is the average number used. I have not seen how other supermarkets are dealing with this.

After the stores with over 250 employees [across all branches] have raked in 5p per single-use bag, what happens next? Does it go to the government? How is the levy accounted for and how will we know that the revenue is being correctly allocated? Is there a specification for a ‘single-use carrier bag’? This does seem to be creeping up on us [eighteen shopping days to go] without much information available.

I am generally supportive of this measure and don’t see the need for a fuss about it since it has been in place in the other parts of the UK for some time now and generally seen as a benefit in many different ways, but it will probably give rise to some interesting dialogue at the checkout.

Written into the legislation is the requirement that any profit raised from bag sales – must be given to a charity of the stores choosing.

So, note, any store suggesting their donation of bag sale profit to charity is some kind of voluntary benevolent act on their part is misrepresenting the bag charge legislation requirement. Passing the bag charge profit on to charity is not optional!

So you could just pay up for as many bags as required and justify the act as doing your daily charitable act….. The store is not going to profit from your paying their bag charge. It’s only going to be a few pence each shop but over the year it’ll add up to a significant donation.

In many cases national stores keep their charitable giving targeted at local good causes – look in-store for their publicity on how they distribute their donations.

Sainsburys on-line are already offering the bag-less delivery option on their web-site ahead of this requirement – you will have to empty the totes immediately on receipt. If a bag is needed – to segregate bleaches and cleaning materials from foodstuffs for example, the driver will empty the bag and take it away with them, so you are only “borrowing” the bag for the duration of the delivery!

I work at a supermarket on the hot rotisserie – chickens, bacon joints etc – we will be able to give a free bag because the immediate serving bags can be greasy and leaky, however if the customer tries to add other items into the bag at the checkout to carry their goods home a charge will have to be levied!

I am surprised that we have not had a Conversation about charging for bags before now, but John has suggested one in the new ‘Ideas’ section. 🙂

What concerns me is that some people will be hoarding the free bags before charging starts and many will have started to disintegrate before they are ever used.

Hi John, look out for an email from me about this 🙂

The other recent Conversation where there were some comments on the introduction of a bag levy in England was “No more unexpected item in the bagging area” [02/08/15].

I have it on good authority that there will be a separate Conversation on this topic in due course.

I agree that self service check-outs are simply a way for stores to have customers work for them for free. In the stores I frequent; the policy seems to be to transfer the check-out operatives to shelf stacking while the customers do the job of those workers.

What would be the legal position if you accidently ( by whatever means) failed to record an item at the check-out; and tried to leave the store with this item (without any knowledge) but was then apprehended as a thief?

Coming late to this one but here in North Wales we not only have to pay for disposable shopping bags but self service checkouts seem to be breeding.

We really don’t find a lot of difference. There’s always someone around to help and – something we find really useful – these folk have the magic key which allows them to put several of the same items (such as bottles) through rapidly. With manned tills you run the risk of getting the moody operator, perhaps the one who’s been on all night, and few seem able to chat for long.

billywizz says:
8 October 2015

dont delete my comment pls

Hi Billy, you’re amusing, but unless you have something to say that’s relevant to the discussion, then your comments won’t stay up. It’s all laid out in our community guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/ Sorry buddy!

billywizz2 says:
3 November 2015

haters gonna hate #billywizzfan4life

Jack says:
27 January 2016

Uhh, yeah you can use your own bags…

Steve says:
29 March 2016

They increase queuing time. Today, I had to wait for 10 minutes for an assistant to come and validate my age. I’ve been busted for a few things in my life, but at the age of 62 being busted for trying to buy Lemsip is a first!

maybe the 6% who don’t have a problem are familiar with operating tills. Personally I don’t have any desire to work on a till EVER. Let alone for a supermarket so I’m out. I refuse to use them now having had my fill of being publically made to feel I’m an idiot who can’t work it right, as if I actually wanted to.
All the effort that the big supermarkets put into merchandising is wasted because they don’t appreciate the value in customer service.

The way they conned you into doing the work yourselves. They suck!! No pleasure, purely robotic systems put in place to optimize profit. The amount of money these cooperation make, and they can’t fork out for a real human to interact with you face to face, it’s PURE greed. They have robotic souls. Show me you respect me by putting a real human face in front of me.

Not to mention it often take longer and also makes you feel like you’re on a factory line, not everyone makes transactions purely for speed, some people like to enjoy the experience of purchasing something. Hire somebody to be on the till you bloody greedy fat cats, just stop.

A new Lidl store opened recently, so I visited when I was passing. I was surprised that it did not have any self-service checkouts, despite the fact that a smaller Lidl in the region had these added two or three years ago.

armadillochubbz20 says:
12 January 2021

I have had a few quick escapes using the self service and have managed to avoid the big queues for the main tills.

However, if you have more than a snack or a handful of items, it often becomes a nightmare!!!!!!!

Weighing your own stuff, typing in digits, selecting the items from the menus, problem putting your bag on before it starts, problem putting your bag on after it starts…

I think there should be a petition and be made law that if you pack your own bags you should get the money off that it would of cost for an employee to do it.