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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 can understand people not liking the machines, some companies have truly horrendous tills. That said, for small number of items (not trolleys!) they are great. Also I use them for items which are “personal” and which I might not want to have a chat about.

Like all things they take time to get used to and as I don’t often do large amounts of shopping then then are fine. At least avoids the overlong queue syndrome where one line is too long and the nearby till is unmanned!

We find the fast check out at my local Waitrose brilliant.
Collecting a scanning handset before shopping is easy, checking selected items by scanning great as the handset totals up as it goes, or taking off unwanted items easy. We are able to pack our shopping in our bags as we shop—-how easy and relaxing; no rush and scramble at the checkout.
Checking out is simple and there is a member of staff immediately on hand if problems arise. Cash off tokens are also accommodated in the scanning process. We always use this system as it is easy and efficient.
We have experienced other supermarkets fast checkout systems and often find them not well monitored by staff, slow, a waste of bags and invariable do not use them.
Waitrose shopping experience is very good!

Carl says:
23 May 2015

Why should stores think I wish to scan my shopping,they make enough profit to employ people to do this. The recent reduction in prices after the Aldi and Lidl emergence has proved this. Perhaps they can be reserved for the strange folk who insist on speaking into their mobile phones whilst shopping, after all, they don’t appear to want any personal interaction. I would agree these tills may be handy if you only have a couple of items. There are a lot of people who only get to speak to someone whilst out shopping. I expect service when buying goods not some silly robotic voice.

Luke says:
1 June 2015

It’s quite sad that people only get to speak to someone when they’re out shopping. People shouldn’t rely on grocery shopping for their weekly social interaction.

Carole says:
23 May 2015

I’ve had to call for help a few times recently just to get started because the person before hadn’t completed and paid. Has anyone else noticed this too? Are the stores aware of increased theft via the self service checkouts?

Woody Eckerslyke says:
23 May 2015

In addition to the listed issues, you have to go and find a staff member to get the car park money refunded.

Self-service checkouts are ok for just a couple of items but they can’t handle alcohol and coupons without staff assistance. Often fruit or veg are not listed.

Tried the self-scanning once but was worried that I had forgotten to scan items and didn’t want to get accused of theft so put them through the till anyway!!!

Give me manned checkouts any day. If there are queues, I always say “excuse me, can you get another till opened please” to the checkout operator and they usually oblige.

Don’t some supermarkets show signs saying “10 items or less” in the self-service checkout areas?

They do, and it should be “10 items or fewer”.

I thought I’d seen that shown in Tesco before.

Morgan says:
23 May 2015

B&Q and Asda especially give one little time to act, have told them to stop nagging me quite often. Female voices are intended, I presume, to sound less aggressive but not when they repetedly and loudly issue a hurried commands, I want to curse! Well done M&S and Tesco for giving a choice of languages though this flummoxes the poor asstistant quite often: what is the Polish for green pepper or Welsh for wholemeal bread?

Linda says:
23 May 2015

Asda’s self checkouts are the worst and a real pain to use. They continually demand items be weighed unnecessarily, fail to identify many common items and require constant intervention from staff who are obviously as unhappy with the checkouts as their customers. I’ve seen frustrated customers put items straight into their own bags without scanning rather than try and get them scanned – this right under the noses of the staff who couldn’t care less. Walmart must be a terrible employer to have such disaffected staff.

SwB says:
23 May 2015

I like that DIY provides more choice i.e. as well as, not instead. Yes, they often trip up but most of those times on hand help quickly resolves. What’s unacceptable is when on one shop there’s a continual set of faults.

I often prick the assistant’s frustration (not mine) by explaining the machines are only human. They look at me with complete puzzlement. I then explain by asking: who designs the process, software and hardware; who puts it all together; and who’s using/ operating it. Yes, all humans and then the penny drops and they laugh. Then I tell them I’m in IT so I know it’s all only as good as the human elements. Trouble is if these relatively simple machines and operations go wrong so frequently, how reliable are fly by wire machines (aeroplanes) – not so amusing but presumably top rated humans who are not fallible?. NB I don’t fly.

I also like the self-scanning ‘guns’. The running total and special offer alerts are all useful as I go about the shelves. However, the end process at the till needs to improve. Anything IT that requires continual reference to instructions is a failure in design. It should be totally intuitive (as most online shopping sites are) and therefore require the minimum of reference to instructions. Waitrose’ is appalling with instructions and physical interaction all over the place – totally non-intuitive (as unfortunately is most of the John Lewis’ Group’s communications – they need to listen to and act on their staff feedback).

I must be going to a different Waitrose from you, SwB. I find the self-scan process, including check-out, could hardly be simpler. From my observations, very few people have problems and ‘newbies’ are walked through the process in a very gentle fashion

I would agree. I find the Waitrose self-scan and quick scan process not as slick as Tesco. Tesco you scan your club card at the start and it is not needed again. In Waitrose you scan your card to get the scanner, then you have to scan it again before you check out – why? For any rescan required, Waitrose seem to scan everything, Tesco just a few items.

Polly says:
23 May 2015

I too remember the old days of the conversation with the person at the till or behind the counter but maybe I’m the odd one. I don’t want to go through life not talking to people and acknowledging them but equally, I am a private person and I don’t want share the details of my private life with someone I barely know. I also find it easier to pack my own bags because I can balance the weight of items in a way which is easiest for me to manage. Yes, the do-it-yourself tills can present a problem sometimes but I have had to wait for long periods of time at a staffed till while someone else goes off to find the price of an item or for a supervisor to come and deal with a problem. Meanwhile the people in the queue behind me are mumbling complaints because they are being held up!

Gyrreb says:
23 May 2015

In general they can be great for only a few items, but this raises its own problems if you do have a bag and don’t intend to use one. Also I have found some which do not accept cash, and only accept cards. Also can get difficult if you miss something, and it won’t let you go back a stage.

Rosemary Brine says:
23 May 2015

There always seems to be something that requires a member of staff to intervene. I regard it as challenge to do a checkout without some intervention, but it doesnt often happen. ‘t you have more than fits in the “bagging area” you cannot remove anything to your trolley. This is as Tesco I don’t know about other supermarkets.

norax says:
23 May 2015

I find that unless a pristine banknote is offered in payment the machine often turns it’s nose up at it. Very annoying.

checkoutcharlie says:
23 May 2015

I don’t like these machines because they just don’t understand me, they never smile and they have no sense of humor or personality, all of which are part of the shopping experience

Graham Oliver says:
23 May 2015

How frustrating when you know how fast our two new favourite food shops are at scanning your goods and cashing up, when at B&Q you need to be directed away from the automatic machines to their one and only cash till – it took ten minutes waiting time! Yes, this was today. Why?Because my very few purchases included two manually discounted prices.
I know their web ID is DIY.COM.
They very clearly do not now put the customer at the centre of their company culture, if they ever did. Nice staff, crazy policy!

John says:
23 May 2015

If they gave me a discount for doing the work myself I might use them, they don’t so I don’t. Anyway, if you buy alcohol you still have to call for help so you might as well go to a cashier. Total waste of time.

If you use your loyalty card (from which they know your date of birth) and pay with a credit card, you’ve already proved your age – so why don’t the self checkouts allow you to buy alcohol without intervention?

I too used to hate self service checkouts for all the reasons given but recently I’ve found them quite convenient on occasion. Once you have sussed out all the problems with the system in the supermarket you use (beware using other supermarkets which have different tills!!) I find it convenient to use self service tills when I have only a few items, precisely because everybody else avoids them and there is always one free to use. This avoids waiting in a long queue with everybody having a long chat with the cashier and then at the last moment realising that they actually have to pay so they have to search for their credit card (which could have been done in the last 15 minutes they spent in the queue). It depends on whether you have a busy life and need to get the shopping done quickly or whether you regard going to the supermarket as a social occasion.

Alan Bowen says:
23 May 2015

I find it very difficult to open the carrier bags quickly enough – they are always stuck together – and then you get a prompt from the machine to put the item in the bagging area.

Take your own bags and help cut down on waste.

I never waste a single carrier bag as I reuse them as bin liners. My own pet hate is when I have more shopping than fits in one bag, and I take a full carrier bag off the bagging area to start using a second bag, the machine seems to take exception to that for some reason and orders you to put the original bag back!

After years of struggling to open plastic carrier bags, I discovered a “trick” – just as they are starting to charge in an attempt to phase them out. But you can still try this while stocks last.

Hold the flat plastic bag near the two handles and pull gently outwards to slightly stretch the bag opening. As you do this, the gusseted sides will stick up out of the opening of the bag. Grab hold of these “ears” and use the to open the bag fully.

Not easy to describe, but simple when you have got the hang of it.

P.S. I do try to use proper shopping bags but sometimes I need a disposable carrier bag to hold a piece of leaking meat, detergent, etc., that I don’t want to come into contact with other foods.

I always struggle with these bags. I know that every checkout assistant can open them with ease, yet I have never once watched how this is achieved.

I was a bit miffed when they started charging for carrier bags. But then realised of course we chucked them out with the rubbish and got new ones at each shop. So we bought those lined hessian reusable bags from Tescos for very little money (3 or 4 years ago now) and use them all the time – at M&S. Just stick them back in the car so they are not forgotten. They are far easier to pack and carry than a plastic carrier bag. So yes – take your own bags.

When my local supermarkets start charging for bags, I’ll do what Malcolm does and use my own bags in competitors’ stores. I wouldn’t mind paying 5p for a bag if the shop payed me a 5p fee for advertising their brand on the bag.

I have a couple of the Tesco hessian bags and the plastic lining has disintegrated, so they have been pensioned off for uses other than food shopping.

Maz says:
23 May 2015

I do not use these self serve tills on principle as they are being used to reduce the numbers of staff. The only time I will use them is if I am shopping late at night and there is no other till open. I also find that the time it takes me to operate/ understand the process I could have been served and on my way long ago if I had been able to use a staffed till.

Will says:
24 May 2015

I disagree. I’m not a fan of self-service, but once you know how to use them, they’re very quick to use. You only need to take the time to learn how to use them the first few times. Once you know what you’re about, it’s fairly quick.

I particularly find that, like yourself, a great many folk prefer the human element, and consequently you often find self-service machines that are free or have a really short queue when the manned tills have a long queue. In such a situation, self-service is arguably quicker.

Our regional supermarket introduced 4 selfcheck out tills they have 1 staff member stationed by them all the time and are great if you just have a basket.
90% of the time we need no intervention, we use our own bags and the assistant sorts the parking money out.
If we want a chat or to use a voucher we queue to use a normal till !
It is obvious that these tills can be adjusted to be more customer tolerant and this may well be an issue in some national chains.
As we shop most days they provide a quick efficient way to checkout for us.

Robert Walls says:
2 June 2015

All part of boosting profits and reducing service. I refuse to use them and in shops, such as WH Smith, where there is sometimes no other way of paying, I return items to the shelves and go elsewhere.