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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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You always have to ask for help when you want to use a coupon, as has difficulty in reading the bar code.

I always use self-service checkouts. Much faster in my opinion. Only annoy me when I have too much shopping to fit on the scales in their express checkouts. It is annoying when you need help, but this happens rarely for me.

I always get a static electric shock from Boot’s self-service checkout screens. It happens every time I use them, so I tend to wince just before I touch them. Is it just me?

The shocks are your punishment for saying that you like self-service checkouts. 🙂

To be serious, static electricity is generally a problem with clothing containing synthetic materials, and can be avoided by choosing materials with more cotton or other natural materials.

But it’s only Boots self-service checkouts. I wear the same clothes in Tescos and Sainsbury’s, but no static shocks.

Patrick: Either you or Boots self-service checkouts have extra electrons jumping around creating an imbalance between positive and negative charges. See more @kidshealth.org – Why do I Get Electric Shock.

Patrick, check the flooring – synthetic carpet may be the cause. I like the choice of a self service checkout – I can use it if I wish. Never had a problem with them. A bit like using an ATM for cash and paying in cheques. They can be quick – a bit like using a microwave instead of an oven. Any change in your situation?

No carpet in Boots. I usually go there just after I’ve been to the gym, so maybe that’s why.

I have never yet used one without having a problem.

How odd. I have used them in Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, M&S and WH Smiths, and very rarely have problems. My preference is to use those shops where they have such machines, unless I have a trolley full of stuff when my preference is to use the Sainsbury’s self scan Fast Track system.

Bess says:
23 May 2015

They take jobs away from people who are always better that a machine in my book.

Although employment in the checkout fitting and maintenance industry might have grown to compensate, whether those jobs are ‘better’ is a different question. Contrary to what government and other media commentators say, a well-balanced economy needs a variety of part-time, lower skill, and close-to-home jobs as well as more traditional working arrangements. Loss of part-time retail work can be quite harmful. The retailers have already got us doing self-service shopping; the least they can do is operate the check-out process if we prefer it. Apart from for fresh food and top-up shopping we mostly use home-delivery. It does the heavy lifting, saves driving around, keeps people employed, and is far more comfortable and less time-wasting for the consumer.

The system these tills employ of checking the weight of the item simply does not well enough for it to be considered reliable. I understand it is there to help detect fraud but until it can be perfected, it should be removed from the process.

Don’t mind self-service checkout, but much prefer the scan as you shop approach. Scan and pack the goods as you go along and pay at the end. Much more efficient – no more of the groceries into trolley, groceries out of the trolley and finally groceries back into the bags in the trolley.

We have only two stores here with this, and I find the Tesco approach much slicker than Waitrose, with fewer calls to a cashier.

They are not well designed ergonomically – if staff had to use them they would complain! We are being treated as cheap labour. Different stores have different procedures for using loyalty cards, credit cards etc so I often need the help of an assistant (and I am very computer-literate).

If stores want us to use self-service checkouts they should give us lots of loyalty points as an incentive.

Hilary says:
23 May 2015

I find the self checkouts do not have much space if you have a lot of goods and have to juggle them about. I am disabled and use a mobility scooter so cannot either reach the high slots for the money or keep reaching up to press other buttons. Nearly everyone (not just me) seems to have to call the “watching assistant” over to help out. Bring back the personal service, it is so much quicker and helpful to all customers!

Robert C says:
23 May 2015

If I wanted self-service I could order it on-line. If I go to a shop I hope there are people to serve – either at a checkout or to answer questions. I avoid the self-service tills if at all possible – why export jobs? Same applies to call centres – I make a point of avoiding services (where possible) that only use overseas ones.

Ann says:
23 May 2015

If an item doesn’t have a barcode eg fruit, bread etc it can be time consuming to scroll through all the screens to find the correct item.
Also these checkouts mean fewer jobs!

Malcolm Newton says:
23 May 2015

I find the design of the menu systems hard to follow. I’ve worked in IT all my life and find the user interface one these things is generally appalling.

Jelunga says:
23 May 2015

I hate “Nagging Nora” the always female voice telling you to bag your item 1 microsecond after scanning it. When the bag has fallen over, and you are trying to put in an awkward size or shape, the last thing I need is Nora nagging.

Felix says:
23 May 2015

I always turn the sound off as soon as I get to the till – see my comment above.

James H says:
23 May 2015

I do not like to see one person replacing 6 while I do the work. There are no extra discounts for saving them money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve been into my local Morrison’s and was delighted to find the new express check outs. I have never been to a self service check out without having problems and I leave feeling frustrated. Besides the queues at the self service check outs are often longer than the manned ones. I wonder why. It is pure joy to be able to have a manned tills even for a few items.

Apart from all the other problems I see no reason why I should, by using the self-service facility, be making a potential contribution to putting people out of work. If we all went for self service there would be no need for proper service and it is a neat way for supermarkets to reduce their staff costs. Why on earth would I want to do all the check-out work myself when there should be professionals around to help? And when I check out, I prefer to speak to someone human. For once, The USA has got it spot on.

h. says:
23 May 2015

Adding to the unemployment line!

oneh. says:
23 May 2015

reducing employment opportunities!

Jane says:
23 May 2015

The unexpected item is usually my handbag. There’s nowhere else to leave it while I use both hands for scanning and packing – usually into my handbag if it’s just a couple of items. If you choose “use own bag it assumes an empty plastic bag.
I usually have at least one item that needs an assistant to check me out, even apparently innocent items, so it’s usually quicker to go to a staffed checkout.

Chris Rowberry says:
23 May 2015

To me, these are just another stressful way of shopping plus, why do I have to do the work, I’m not getting a discount for doing so?