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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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I prefer staffed checkouts, especially with a large shop because it’s easier to get the different products in the right bags. I have not used the self-service checkouts unless it was unavoidable,

I still don’t understand why there cannot be a single line for people wanting to use the staffed checkouts and you just go to the next available checkout. It’s so frustrating when you think you’re in a moving queue and it comes to a standstill while bar-codes have to be obtained and wads of coupons and vouchers processed.

Express checkouts are good for small shops [<10 items] but there should be no chit-chat and no complications!

Some “quikie marts” like Tesco, M&S and Morrisons convenience stores do use a single line to feed all the checkouts, but these shops normally don’t have many checkouts.

Personally, I don’t mind using a self-service checkout if I am only buying a few simple items and if I’m not in a hurry. But if I have complicated items or a lot of items, then I’ll want to use a proper staffed checkout.

I have always disliked the insincere cheesy banter and falsetto ‘enjoy the rest of your day’ that formerly had to be endured at checkouts – not my idea of human contact. What a relief when self-service checkouts appeared. Some supermarkets have better designed and maintained machines than others however.

Unless I want a couple of items I always prefer staffed checkouts.

The self-service checkouts in my local Tesco have improved a great deal but they are still not reliable, even when used with care. Several days ago, I used one late in the evening, when all the staffed checkouts were closed. It refused to accept a voucher for £5. I had four people look at it, confirm that it was valid and press buttons while I patiently waited to see what would happen. Ten minutes later they gave up and the offending voucher is on the hall table, waiting for the next time I use a staffed checkout.

We deserve the choice of using a staffed or a self-service checkout whenever shops are trading.

In one local Tesco that I use occasionally the volume on the self-service checkouts is turned up so high you can hear it all over the shop. When I come out my head is full of messages about bags, Clubcards and taking your change. I normally go to the staffed counter that is right alongside the self-service machines and the assistant has to shout over the noise. The good thing is the assistant fills the bags I take in and I just robotically administer the payment function.

Felix says:
23 May 2015

It’s actually quite easy to turn the sound down or off on these machines – at least the Tesco and Sainsburys ones – they have a touch volume control on the screen. Each press makes it one bar louder, until at full volume a press turns it off.

I’ve noticed though that it only works before or after processing each item, not between scanning and setting it down, or during the payment process. I always turn the sound off as soon as I get to the till.

Mary says:
19 May 2015

I do think Supermarkets make more than enough money to employ real people to staff their Supermarkets!!!!

I hate those machines with a vengeance!!

My Tescos in Hove has Self-Scan, 2 areas of self-serve!! AND ALWAYS long queues for the shoppers who prefer to be dealt with by a person.

Les says:
19 May 2015

In the end, staffed checkouts will disappear, and the big supermarkets will automate shelf stacking, leaving 80% staff redundant. Long live the Luddites – that at least, knew the writing was in the wall for human employment, rather than mechanisation and the polarisig of wealth.

Lynn says:
19 May 2015

I hate self serve, they never seem to work. I do not have the best of health
and I feel over pressured to hurry when I have used them. And more often
than not the queue to use one is longer than the manned queue. On the
occasions I am directed to them by staff I say no and inform them that I am
keeping them their job. I will not use them.

As Mary says most shops make enough money out of us, we should
be entitled to good customer service. I think while we are prepared to
accept poor service that is what we will receive.

On the occassions

“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?” – I’ve seen them do this in WHSmith. Asks if you want chocolate before you scan items. Not cool, IMO

Self service checkouts work well if used appropriately. If you have just a few items, and there are queues at the regular checkouts, but not at the self-service, then they are faster.
If you have a lot of items, the speed of an experienced cashier will beat the amateur scanner unless the queues are long.
I use a pre-paid Sainsbury’s Gift card, and checking out with 6 items took me about 35 seconds today (there was no waiting, the self-service tills were all free).
The key? Use them when they are faster, and don’t use them when they’re not. You’ll soon get the hang of this.

Dyvroeth says:
19 May 2015

I hate them and go out of my to avoid them, frequently ending up arguing with poor minion appointed by the company’s accountants to exhort us to use them while waiting in the inevitable queue for a human checkout operator. My response to a third request to use one of the awful things is essentially, “…every time 1000 of us uses one of those, 1 of you loses your job”.

Simply that they eliminate much needed unskilled jobs; dehumanise the process; and reduce customer service.

Bookworm123 says:
19 May 2015

I hate them. Invariably I have too much for one bag – so then if I move the full bag the machine tells me off for doing that. Sometimes a light object doesn’t register in a shopping bag and the machine keeps telling me to place item in the bagging area. They are ok for a few items and cash – but anything like vouchers, more than one bag of goods then please get me out of there.

If you use your own stout shopping bags, that will get round the problems caused by moving bags.

The rest of the problems remain.

Pauline says:
19 May 2015

I have been caught out when scanning security tagged items that aren’t ‘disabled’ thus setting off the alarms when leaving the store. This has happened to me twice in M & S now and each time I have had to try to find someone to sort it out. Both times I have been told I would have to queue again at a manned till to sort it out. That is unreasonable. I won’t use self-service now – it’s just too much hassle.

Noire says:
19 May 2015

Since the introduction of self service checkouts, i always head straight to them & bypass using manned checkouts altogether, it is extremely rare that i find myself queueing up waiting in line for a cashier. Self service checkouts are much preferred for some people who suffer with social anxiety as it means less social interaction with humans. i was well happy when i first caught sight of them.

One time there was a queue behind the self service tills, the manned till was empty & so the cashier beckoned me over to be served by her. I told her, “i prefer the machine” & remained where i was. This is an utter myth that ALL people want to be served by a smiling chatty friendly person AT ALL times. People with social anxiety just want to get their item & get out of there ASAP not to be subjected to a friendly chat by a cashier (which ISN’T WRONG) but it’s not what some of us can handle or need when out shopping. I hope self service checkouts remain forever.

Lynn says:
20 May 2015

This is a very valid point Noire. Not being something I suffer with myself fortunately, this
is something that had not occurred to me. I can understand now why some people would
prefer self service. Thank you for making your point.

By using them I and others are helping the company put people out of work- and I hate that-the other day I went into M and S there were 7 unmanned tills opposite the self check out with one helper- for a very long queue- I put my basket on the floor and walked out. Some post offices are doing it now- which involves typing in addresses, weighing items etc- it is just wrong on so many levels.

neil Paxton says:
20 May 2015

I just refuse to use them they are faceless. I would rather shop on line if they were the only alternative.

If we start see happy smiling faces appear on the screens we can blame Neil. 🙂

As robot pets are now on the horizon perhaps we will see robot checkout operators. Think of the jobs created to manufacture them – unfortunately in China. 😮

WPage says:
20 May 2015

Its doing people out of an entry level job. Valuable experience for young people leaving school or trying to make money while at college. If we are going to have an insistance that everyone must work or be labelled a scrounger, then we must have jobs for them to do.

Lesley Astbury says:
20 May 2015

I like to see people in jobs, I like the human interaction. I refuse to use the self service tills on those grounds, but hate it when an assistant tries to usher you towards the machines and offers to help! This happened to me in Boots store, Westfields, Shepherds Bush, today. Twice I said I didn’t want to use them, twice the assistant offered to guide me. How rude is that? I’m not a ladyship type person who thinks it is beneath me to use a machine, and as I’ve been using computers since pre internet days, I’m not afraid of technology, I prefer to see people employed. I did blow my top, slammed the item down on the unmanned counter, and said if she didn’t want to serve me, I would go elsewhere. I hate ranting, but don’t want to be sheep-herded into using the machines against my will.

I can’t say that I like self-service checkouts, but I can’t say I hate them either. They can be handy sometimes when you have just a couple of items to check out, which is when I tend to use them.

Unfortunately, sadly, we have as much of a chance of seeing them disappear as we have petrol station attendants reappear, or bus conductors, or the icecream lady after the shortie at the cinema before they showed the main feature. Then were the days.

Ian Savell says:
20 May 2015

I almost always use self service checkouts. I have had one bout of SSC rage – when the item weights were slightly out and I was checking out ten identical items – the machine kept deciding the weights were wrong after 6 or 7 items leading to either “place item in bagging area” or “unexpected item” errors. Eventually I bailed out and went to a cashier. It would be an improvement if you could scan one item then add a multiplier but I suppose someone could work out a good “same weight” fraud with that. But most of the time self service saves so much time vs queuing. (and that long walk down the line to find the shortest queue only to find it is closing)

One gripe is that the weight allowance for “own bags” is quite low so my personal plastic basket isn’t allowed – I have to stack everything on the shelf then pack as a separate activity after paying. I suppose there’s a fraud where a shopper places an actual item in their own bag without scanning and so gets round the weight check. But Tesco have the basket issue covered with their self scan system – items go straight in the basket and stay there, fraud is covered by random checks. I think self-scan is the true future of self service.

Why a basket not a bag? because you can pack delicate things more reliably in a basket without risk of crushing.

Felix says:
23 May 2015

My canvas “Recycling saves the planet” bag is also too heavy, but the tills are set up for these circumstances – the bag just requires authorisation. If the till finds the bag’s too heavy, it flashes red to call the attendant, who swipes their card and enters a code – it’s very fast. My local supermarket has got quite sued to me and my bag.

Mr B says:
20 May 2015

I’m a retired Engineer, I find machines interesting. However, if I am coerced to use a self service check out, the urge to tear one apart is almost irresistible.
I can’t remember a time where I haven’t encountered a problem and a member of Staff has had to assist.
I find self service checks make for a bad shopping experience and I always try and avoid them.

I never use self-service checkouts as I don’t like dealing with anything without a soul. They give out all the demands and if you don’t obey you don’t get. Simple as that. No interaction or questions allowed. Shopping for some elderly people can be quite a pleasant outing when they have been confined to their homes all the week and provides a welcome opportunity to talk to another human being at checkouts, even if it is only about the weather or the price of bread.