/ 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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Comments
Guest
John says:
27 May 2015

Fine for small number of items if there is no queue to use them, but problems are frequent and you have to wait for a supervisor anyway if you want to buy booze!

Guest
cactustom says:
29 May 2015

I find robo tills impersonal I prefer a living breathing human to scan my shopping, help me with the bagging up if necessary, wish me good morning with a smile if there is a problem its sorted quickly there is plenty of room to bag my shopping what’s not to like. These robo tills are taking peoples jobs and why should I after paying so much for shopping should I do the supermarkets job for them I would at least expect a reduction in my bill. I usually do my shopping early in the morning the only tills open are robo tills trying to bag up several bags worth is extremely frustrating and annoying.

Guest
Luke says:
1 June 2015

A great comment below that’s pretty relevant:

Just a thought for those who shop in supermarkets then complain that self service tills are taking peoples’ jobs.

Why are you shopping in a supermarket at all?

The supermarkets have grown by destroying the market for small specialist stores, and are also destroying small suppliers by favouring massive, labour efficient agribusinesses.

So supermarkets are based on eliminating jobs and forcing down labour costs.

I assume you shop there because they are cheap and convenient, without knowing (or perhaps without caring) about the impact on peoples’ lives.

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Guest

I really love self checkouts – they speed up my shopping!

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Guest

I quite like them – for the sad reason that I don’t want to interact with the till operator. The problem is the ‘unexpected item…’ or when something won’t scan. When this happens the purpose of the machine us totally defeated: more time, more frustration. This happens sufficiently few times, though, that I still like to use them.

It must be said that they’re hardly suitable for a ‘big shop’ – but when you’re shopping just for yourself, with typically fewer than 20 items, and people at the regular tills have five times this, they’re attractive. The best option, though, is self-scan as you shop.

Guest
Jordan says:
30 May 2015

Not as such a problem with using them – but I always get staff hovering over my shoulder trying to assist me in using them, if I needed help I would ask!!

Guest
Margaret says:
30 May 2015

My husband and I tried the self service at supermarket we scan some item and the bag was full so he life it for and the thing start to blit call ass and was told we have to leave bag on a very Small counter and scan the other suff it was a nightmear would never use it again 1hour later husband ready for blow his top and I’m the one that has a tember

Guest
J Dudley says:
30 May 2015

Always problems at self service tills,
If you buy a small item, say a sauce sachet, the bagging area cannot register a small weght so once again call operator.
When buying alcohol you have to wait for operator to override system and allow my purchase(I am 71). They never ask for age ID!
If I am doing all the work myself then I should get a discount as the supermarkets costs are reduced.

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Guest

To minimise the number of times you need to call for help you could leave difficult items such as the sauce sachets and alcohol to the end and then let the assistant deal with them, plus any coupons that could cause problems. Sometimes I have watched assistants going back and forward helping different people. I don’t get worked up but I suspect it must be unpleasant to have to deal with those who find the self-service tills infuriating.

Guest
JandA says:
30 May 2015

At a certain branch of the co-op some items are cheaper on self-serve. We think, unintentionally!

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Guest

Just a thought for those who shop in supermarkets then complain that self service tills are taking peoples’ jobs.

Why are you shopping in a supermarket at all?

The supermarkets have grown by destroying the market for small specialist stores, and are also destroying small suppliers by favouring massive, labour efficient agribusinesses.

So supermarkets are based on eliminating jobs and forcing down labour costs.

I assume you shop there because they are cheap and convenient, without knowing (or perhaps without caring) about the impact on peoples’ lives.

Guest
Lynn says:
2 June 2015

I appreciate your point, as you say supermarkets have grown by destroying the small stores and independent businesses. It is because they have destroyed my local shopping area that I actually have very little option where I shop and have to use supermarkets. I would love to have the small shops I used to have locally. Sometimes we have no other option.

Guest
Les says:
31 May 2015

I only use them if I have a handful of items, with a full trolley it just takes too long.
I resent the presence of self service tills and feel they are not there to improve my shopping experience but to save the owners money at my expense.

Guest
Katharine says:
31 May 2015

They are an absolute pain and generally take far longer than a normal till even when there is a short queue. Something will always not scan or not work. I have sworn at them. once in a shop with a normal till and no other customers at all I was told by the only person on duty that I HAD to use the self-service (even though he was free and there was no queue. It was compulsory, he said. I have not been back to that shop since. I imagine being a helper on a set of self-service tills must be a boring and irritating job as everyone who calls them has already lost their temper to the till and is in a bad mood!

Guest
Sue H says:
6 June 2015

They told me I had to use a self scan so I handed them the basket of goods to put back on the shelves and walked out. It worked – there is always at least one till with a human being open now.

Guest
Luke says:
1 June 2015

I much prefer using the self-service to a regular checkout. Not because I don’t like social interaction – I’m a very social person. I find the self-service to be much more convenient. Queue times are far shorter, and I like doing things for myself.

But I get along very well with technology so it’s no bother for me. I can understand it not being so easy for others. For the supermarkets it makes far more sense economically. When my local Lidl got self-service, it basically replaced 2 checkout staff with 1, and I queue up for about a quarter of the time I used to.

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Guest

The reason the queue times are shorter might be because more people want to use the staffed tills.

Guest
Luke says:
3 June 2015

It might also have something to do with the fact that there are now 8 self-service tills in place of 1 or 2 open conventional tills. There’s still one regular lane operating, and folk that were queueing up at it before I even got to the tills are mostly still their waiting to be served as I’m walking out of the shop.

Guest
Rob says:
1 June 2015

I resent the fact that these machines replace real jobs and I don’t even get a discount for using these frustrating badly designed things.

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Guest

Firstly, while supermarkets and other businesses may like to promote self-service tills as quicker, their ulterior motive is simply to reduce the number of staff and cut costs!

Regarding the self-service tills themselves, most are far too fussy (particularly in Tesco and Sainsburys), frequently complaining about unexpected items which then require staff intervention before you can continue – time-consuming and infuriating! However, the Waitrose self-service tills seem to be more tolerant. Better still, the Waitrose portable scanners which allow you to scan your items as you shop both work well and do appear to save you time – if you pack your items into carrier bags as you shop then when you reach the till all you need to do is pay.

Guest
Sydstoat says:
3 June 2015

If you are in a hurry and only have 2 or 3 items self service can be useful. But for the majority of the time I find self service hopeless. I have noted in many supermarkets that on average it takes 2 to 3 times as long for goods to be checked out via the self service till rather than via the attended till. As a result long queues can regularly build up. Tempers fray. Customers can at times abandon their shopping and walk out. From the perspective of the supermarket business this must be worrying. If you cannot process your customers in a timely manner you will simply take less money and worse still if you cheese them off with repeated poor experiences they will not come back and will simply elect to shop elsewhere. Is it any wonder that some of the supermarkets are struggling? I fail to see how there can be any economic advantage for the retailer in self service. Any ‘saving’ on staff costs musty be more than wiped out by loss of revenue, possible loss of repeat custom, and the capital and maintenance costs of the tills themselves.

Guest
Geraldp says:
3 June 2015

One of the many horrid things about self-service checkouts is that they further increase the amount of noise in supermarkets, e.g you have to hear “unexpected item” both for your own shopping and for other people’s.

Guest
Dave says:
3 June 2015

It doesnt help the customer but the supermarket, there isnt any cost reduction for us doing their work. The machine is much to clunky and there is always a problem when using it

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Guest

Most shops that provide this “service” have little consideration for their shoppers other than as rather disagreeable sources of money.

Unexpected item in Bagging Arrgh!!!!

It’s sometimes amusing to watch some pathetic sales assistant grooming the queue to the staffed tills to attempt to get some of us curmudgeons to use the self-service systems, often with little success.

The very calm voicing used in the tills is entirely counter productive. I find turning it off does calm me down far more.

On another matter – why do I need more than one login to access the various Which? websites – surely if I’m logged into the main website, I shouldn’t need to prove who I am to you _again_?

Guest
Peter says:
4 June 2015

I don’t like being watched by the assistant, they must think I am going to steal something. The only thing I steal is an extra nectar point by claiming to use my own bags. Oh, and a large wad of fruit/veg bags, that I can use in the kitchen, and …

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Guest

I guess that self-service checkouts make shoplifting easier, for various reasons. Of course we all pay for shoplifting in supermarkets. I would not expect the supermarkets to comment but wonder if anyone has inside information about this.

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

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Guest

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.

Guest
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 !!

Guest
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

Guest
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!

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Guest

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

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Guest

Hi

just a quick question for you. We’ve had a few issues raised to us about special offers not registering on self-service checkouts. Anyone had a similar experience?

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Guest

Last week in Co-op.

Alpro soya drink should have been 3 for £3 but registered at full price on the self-service checkout.

Guest
billywizz2 says:
3 November 2015

that’s a shame alfa now get on with your life:)))

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Guest

I have not had a problem with special offers registering on self-service checkouts in Tesco. I assume that these checkouts are accessing the same database as used by staffed checkouts, so the correct or incorrect price should be charged at either type of checkout.

Guest
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.

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Guest

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?

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

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Guest

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……

Martin

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Guest

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.

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Guest

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!

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Guest

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.

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Guest

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

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Guest

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.

Guest

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?

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Guest

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.

Guest
billywizz says:
8 October 2015

dont delete my comment pls

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Guest

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!

Guest
billywizz2 says:
3 November 2015

haters gonna hate #billywizzfan4life

Guest
Jack says:
27 January 2016

Uhh, yeah you can use your own bags…

Guest
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!