Friday 1 December 2023

Auto-Checkouts are Off

Three cheers for Booths! Actually I've never been in a Booths store; this supermarket chain is quite small, with only twenty-eight outlets in the North Country, but it has just done something really radical. It has taken away the automated checkouts in its shops and replaced them with good old fashioned human beings. As Charlie Chaplin once said: "a machine shouldn't speak for men!" Automatic checkouts are everywhere these days. There is a Marks and Spencer convenience grocer in London's Victoria Station that has nothing but; and only one of those auto-tills takes cash. London is particularly bad generally for this sort of thing. Here is the heroic Piers Corbyn telling one of these Davos ration distributors exactly what he thinks of them: I've used auto-checkouts a couple of times and I dislike them a lot. A robotic voice instructs you to scan the barcode of each of your items and then you put the money in a slot, or more usually tap your bank card. Often something goes wrong or the machine thinks you've put your carrier bag in the wrong place etc, so almost every minute or so somebody asks for help from an assistant. Also you can't buy alcohol or tobacco products unless an assistant confirms that you're old enough. Computers can't do that yet. Booths' managing director Nigel Murray, said: "Our customers have told us that the self-scan machines can be slow and unreliable. They're obviously impersonal (my emphasis)... We believe colleagues serving customers delivers a better customer experience and therefore we have taken the decision to remove self-checkouts in the majority of our stores. We are a business that prides ourselves on the high standards and high levels of warm, personal care (my emphasis)". Source: Based Booths! This is just one small step in the right direction, but at least it is in the right direction. Just for once, the warm and personal has triumphed over the callous and efficient. Hopefully more shops will follow suit. There is a petition with over 250,000 signatures asking Tesco to ditch its auto-tills. I am impressed how in the grocer I use the most, The Cooperative in Oxford, the queues for the human tills are getting longer and the mechanical ones are less popular. I don't mind waiting; it's a sign of healthy change.
See here for background:


Anonymous said...

I suppose it's 'horses for courses'. I personally like the self service tills when all I'm buying is a handful of items rather than waiting behind lots of folks doing their large weekly/monthly shopping in supermarkets. Although there are sometimes kind souls that let me jump past with a couple of items if they have a trolley that's few and far between sadly.

The bigger issue is cash or card. Some supermarkets have an even number of card/cash or card only whereas bigger chains seem to only have a handful that use cash. The cash tills break down more often also resulting in stores removing them.

If you are a 'cash only' user like many elderly time is running out on your ability to use it with bank branches closing and APM's no longer being viable for the owning companies to operate due to lack of use.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Anon.
Thanks for the link, but I think there is hope. See the background link at the bottom of the article. I've not found in most grocery shops I've been in that the queue for the auto-tills moves any quicker than the one for the manned tills. Obviously in a store with more of them the difference gets made up. If you like the self-service checkouts and enough other customers do, then I'm sure some of the chains will retain them.