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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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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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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!!

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

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.

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.

JandA says:
30 May 2015

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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_?

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 …

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.