10 reasons why I hate supermarket self-service checkouts

Updated on 13 May 2013 | 0 Comments

The phrase 'unexpected item in the baggage area' is guaranteed to bring Andrew Webb out in a fit of blood-boiling rage. Will anything stop the rise of the machines?

I've tried readers, I really have. I get technology; love it, in fact. I bought the first iPod when it came out in 2001, and I own gadgets galore. But I just cannot stand self-service checkout machines – here are 10 reasons why.

1. They never work, do they? I normally get about four or five items in before hitting the 'call assistant' button. The weighing of ingredients is the worst – scrolling though pages of options, trying to find the picture of a fennel bulb. It makes me feel like a toddler operating an educational toy.

2. Scanning, weighing, and moving items quickly along a conveyor belt is a skill. The cashiers at my local supermarket beep so fast that I can barely keep up with the packing. When we have to do it, however, every item takes ages, as we flip it every which way looking for the pesky barcode.

3. I'm normally buying wine along with the shopping, which requires a long wait for the assistant to come over. Someone I don't know has to assert that 'the customer is over 18'. I'm left looking like a lush.

4. They're everywhere! Tesco's flagship store in Covent Garden (closed temporarily in 2012 for mice infestation) is now nearly entirely self-service, where once it had till lanes. Even Boots the chemist has them in store now. Worse, they've escaped from supermarkets into other places. Cash-strapped Leicestershire council have put them in their libraries!

5. They increase shoplifting. One third of shoppers admit to stealing items while using self-service checkouts (the other two thirds just lied). Putting expensive orange peppers through as cheap-as-chips carrots is one popular dodge. Ultimately that cost is passed on to the rest of us.

6. They take away jobs. Many supermarkets said it would free up staff to be more active on the shop floor, helping customers and stocking shelves. Hasn't really happened though, has it? At least not in the supermarkets I've been in. Instead one member of staff now has to 'manage' six different tills like a magician spinning plates. 

7. They were meant to cut queues, but in a test conducted by the Sunday Telegraph, the same basket of shopping was processed quicker at the traditional checkout rather than the self service. 

8. I hate the chirpy voice they all have. When the two dozen or so in my local supermarket all get going, it's like a retail rendition of Spem in alium. If we must have these things, can't they all speak in a staccato robot voice and say things like 'ERROR - DOES NOT COMPUTE'.

9. I want better technology! We never get the future we're promised, do we? Where's the self-scanning trolley we were told about in 2002 that would scan everything and let us just walk out? That said, Waitrose do have the Quick Check handheld scanners in some of their stores, which lets you scan as you go, pay, and leave.

10. Finally, it's the thin end of the wedge… like banks, I'm sure supermarkets would LOVE to offer a premium service they could charge for. In the not too distant future, having a human being politely talk to you, pack your shopping in luxury cotton bags, and even carry them to the car will cost you. Can't afford it? The robots are over there...

Do you like or loath self-service machines? Tell us in the Comments box below.

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