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Your view: supermarket self-service checkouts

Supermarket self-service checkouts – love ‘em or hate ‘em it’s clear many of you have strong views. More than 100 of you have so far commented on our Convo on the subject and more than 1,100 have voted in our poll.

At the moment the votes are on the side of my colleague Paul Ryan who professed a deep dislike for them. But I feel they let me get my shopping done more quickly than having to queue for ages waiting for the staff-operated tills.

Happily, some of you are on my side, including Glennwalker who said:

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

Others of you also liked that you didn’t have to interact with others when you didn’t want to.

Do you prefer a personalised service?

It seems that quite a few of you do prefer dealing with a member of staff when at the supermarket. Cactustom said:

‘I find robo tills impersonal, I prefer a living, breathing human to scan my shopping, help me with the bagging up if necessary and wish me good morning with a smile. If there is a problem it’s sorted quickly and  there is plenty of room to bag my shopping. What’s not to like.’

Unexpected item in bagging area

Another gripe many of you mentioned is problems scanning items, or checkouts not recognising if a small item has been placed in the carrier bag. Dudley experiences this a lot:

‘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.’

Linda had the same issue:

‘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.’

Thanks to all who have already shared their views, and please do keep voting in our poll!

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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Some will use self-service checkouts by choice, some avoid them and others like me will only use them for a few items. The answer is that we deserve to be given a choice rather than forced to use them.

My main problem is with the smarmy voice that assumes you have forgotten how to use the system if you take more than 5 seconds to wrestle an item out of your basket and never gives you enough time to to pick up the next item before telling you to scan it. Or that says “Please” every single blasted time it speaks. Or that tells you to insert your card when you are already entering your PIN. Or the lack of a working volume control or mute button.

I always use the self-service checkouts if there is one available but the vocal prompts need work. When Morrisons first started to use them in my local branch it was literally impossible (and I mean literally impossible) to put one item in your bag and scan the next item before the voice started nagging. I queried it with a manager who just nodded. They (and Sainsburys) had been allocated the checkouts because ASDA had just opened in the town that same week.

If you haven’t tried Morrison’s self-service checkouts then you might not really appreciate the problems. Their “helpers” must be the fittest of them all as they constantly flit from pillar to post. One told me that it was German technology…well “vorsprung durch technik” it certainly isn’t…

The rest are OK by comparison but being constantly chided by the voice is irritating. Maybe a bit of humour might reduce the tension because I suspect there’s an element of techno-phobe in as all…I’m very computer-literate but I’m still inclined to panic at checkouts sometimes as I struggle a bit to locate the appropriate slots.

Jane Frost says:
8 June 2015

I thought they were great for buying lunchtime sandwiches.

Unfortunately I’ve just read the Daily Mail article.

So I won’t be using them anymore.

T Ward says:
9 June 2015

I wonder on what evidence these were introduced.
1. Do they save time?
2. Do they save money?
3. Do they save anything? They always have to employ a member of staff to oversee. Especially when buying alcohol.

The Daily Mail article mentioned by Jane Frost above seems very sensational and contains unnecessary and unjustified slurs on the cleanliness of Polish and other Eastern European food factory workers. With so many hundreds of millions of sandwiches being sold each year and, so far as I am aware, a very low statistical incidence of food poisoning from supermarket sandwiches, so long as good hygiene and infection control procedures are in place [as appeared to be the case in the factory featured] there is no reason why food should not be touched by bare hands; in fact, as was stated in the article, there are advantages. The workers seemed to be provided with very good protective clothing to avoid the risk of contamination from all parts of their bodies other than their hands and the plant looked very clean. I wish all pubs and cafés were run to such high standards as that factory.

Sorry – off-topic I know, but I felt I just had to comment.

I am not overkeen on seeing workers handling the food directly with their bare hands. If you blow up the pictures, a cut and dirty finger nail are apparent.

I strongly support John’s comments, and also apologise for this off-topic post.

Supermarket sandwiches are not a well known cause of food poisoning. If you are concerned about someone touching sandwiches with there bare hands you should be far more worried about supermarkets selling chickens contaminated by faeces during processing. The problem is so great that the Food Standards Agency issued a campaign last year to stop people washing raw chicken because this can transfer campylobacter bacteria to kitchen surfaces and food that is eaten without cooking. The supermarkets have at last been shamed into taking action.

Irritating though self-service checkouts are, they won’t make you ill or kill you. Food poisoning can.

As much as anything else I didn’t like the Daily Mail’s implication that foreigners’ bare hands were somehow worse than UK citizens’ bare hands would have been. Emotive dogma bordering on racism. I was not familiar with the Daily Mail. I shan’t touch it in future.

Certainly the Daily Mail is often inflamatory…that’s its style. But the Daily Mail was the paper that galvanized movement on the Stephen Lawrence case and we should never forget that. So maybe we should give credit to the fact that they often expose scandals that affect so many people whilst sometimes wincing at their rough-and-ready approach to news stories.

Les – The priority must be to address the valid criticisms made by John.

Good point …could I also point out that the subject was supermarket self-service checkouts and it went off-subject when the conversation switched to sandwiches, contamination and the Daily Mail.

Therefore, surely my defence of the Daily Mail is there just as valid as John’s criticisms …although we all despise racism it’s never actually been within Which’s remit has it?”

I agree but what do you think is happening when stuff is actually put on the shelves? Best not to think about it.

The genie is out of the bottle and these self-service checkouts aren’t going to go away. I would wager that supermarkets must have done some research (maybe even including asking a sample of customers, who knows) and found it saves them money. End of. Like Wavechange says, it’s up to us to use them or not. What those of us who use them can do is perhaps help improve them.

My experience of these checkouts in this country is mostly positive, WH Smith, Tesco, Sainsbury, M&S so far. The last time I was in France at a Casino supermarket it was very different. There were huge queues at the manned tills, so my mother and I decided to use a self-service checkout. We found that our own shopping bag was too tall because some piece of equipment was placed right above where you deposit what you’ve scanned, so low that it touched the handles of the bag, which no doubt interfered with bagging area scales. We had to get an assistant to help us with every single item, and there were quite a few, and this was while the assistant was helping very many other customers on her own. At my local Tesco there are always 2 assistants at busy times. Another time we were at this supermarket the bag we had was smaller but the machine still wasn’t sensitive enough to detect light items. A nightmare. You’d think I’d remember the French for what the machine said each time, I heard it so many times, but I don’t (though I remember what I said to it.)

Paying was OK, but we were issued with an exit receipt, which we had to scan to be able to exit the self-service checkouts. At my local Tesco I’m sure they keep an eye on us as we scan and bag, but I feel reasonably trusted. If I had to shop at that Casino every day I wouldn’t use the self-service checkout, or I would simply shop elsewhere. Here, well, I count myself lucky.

We refuse to use self service checkouts for reasons of protecting jobs. Too many people are hoodwinked by supermarkets telling us it saves our time etc.etc. They dont seem to notice the time they waste for us trailing around aisles to find products they have moved in order to cause us to pass other items they want us to notice and buy!

Nurain says:
16 August 2015

I agree, I think it’s a slippery slope to machines replacing all human interaction.
Different, but similar to how automated car parks replaced the need for attendants, and self- filling fuel stations. It’s also how we lost our friendly milkmen – milk stocked in supermarkets, ergo no delivery needed. What next I wonder? Will we be expected to drop into our loval sorting office weekly to collect our own mail??

DAVIE says:
14 June 2015

In the next 50 years I’m willing to bet that the computers will gradually replace a good percentage of the staff in the supermarkets if the public don’t call out against technology replacing unskilled work. The proof is that they have already started installing checkout service computers with conveyor belts in supermarkets. I wonder what happened to that employee who sat at that till and used to do that work?

Surely it’s been like that ever since the Jacquard loom displaced 1000’s of workers. Maybe it doesn’t always have to be that way. Aldi uses higher-paid checkout staff, who process the articles far more quickly but IMO are generally more personable and aware…no sign of automation there..

Latest encounter with self-service at a branch of Sainsbury’s last night. Popped in just to pick up a sandwich and a bottle of water. The assistant (who was standing by the proper tills) insisted on walking across with me to the self-service ones, where he even scanned the goods for me. Does that even count as self-service? I’m sure no one’s time was saved by the encounter!

I read today that Tesco is to reprogram its self-service checkouts to drop the nagging in the bagging area. The supermarket has said it was getting rid of six “unhelpful” phrases – including “unexpected item in the bagging area” – after feedback from customers. Apparently a new male voice will make self-service checkouts “friendlier, more helpful and less talkative”. So Sonia [who get Sonia nerves] is on the way out to be replaced by the mellifluous tones of a gentleman; perhaps Harold be his name.

Nurain says:
16 August 2015

Hmm, and will Harold will be contracted on zero hours? Sorry, but it has to be said.

Nurain says:
16 August 2015

I dread using the self-service checkouts due to the dreaded “unexpected item” malarky, and yes, Sophie Gilbert is spot-on. The supermarkets have implemented said technology in a race to cut employee wage-bills, nothing to do with the customer experience & what we want. Interesting that where I live (Switzerland), we have self-scan checkouts, but I’ve NEVER heard the “unexpected item” message (for my till or any other customer), the tills don’t have voices, you can use your own shopping bag ( in fact, you’re positively encouraged to do so), and I don’t believe the platforms register the weight of goods as there’s no problem if you remove a filled bag midway in the process.
I still agree the technology is great & can speed things up when in a hurry 🙂

The person who came up with the self serve check out, should have to go throughthem , for 24 hours. The ones I get are NOT quicker, and always having to get an assistant( grrrrrrr, we really should get going!!!!) I like to use Asda during the night, no hassle!! But the only checkouts are the self service, and the lady( aoutomated) has a very bad hairday when I go through,
Lets get rid of all these, and have more staff on checkouts, they are much nicer!! Bye for now, am off to shop, hope I dont have to us self serve!!