Comment: Why we should resist the onslaught of the self-service checkout

Love them or loathe them, self-service supermarket checkouts seem here to stay.

The past few years have seen major retailers remove banks of manned tills in favour of their robotised alternatives.

The revolution has been spreading to smaller convenience outlets, and non-food stores, with some shops offering no alternative to the self-scan checkout. Marks & Spencer, for example, has gone down this route for its busy branches at railway stations such as Haymarket and Waverley in Edinburgh.

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Retail industry observers believe that the big supermarkets are reaching a tipping point where 80 per cent of sales are now self-checkout. They will point to their convenience factor, particularly when paying by contactless card or mobile, and note that the rollout has accelerated as a result of the pandemic, and some people’s fear of close personal contact.

Self-service checkouts are the only option when manned tills are unoccupied.Self-service checkouts are the only option when manned tills are unoccupied.
Self-service checkouts are the only option when manned tills are unoccupied.

Personally, I cannot stand the beeping things, which is about all they seem to utter, along with the depressing chorus of “unexpected item in the bagging area”.

Do they speed things up? Not judging by the length of the queues seen snaking towards them, often resulting not from choice, but from a lack of manned till options. Pity the poor store worker darting between a dozen machines authorising alcohol purchases and dealing with the multiple tech gremlins.

Ah, but we are told that freeing staff from operating manned checkouts will improve other aspects of the store, chiefly shelf stacking. Few if any job losses will result. This is not about cost-cutting, etc, etc.

Speak to some of the harassed workers remaining and you will find that is not the case. Departing and retiring colleagues are simply not being replaced.

And the human cost of this march of the machines extends to the lack of interaction that many older, single and home-working people now have to endure on what can be the only chance of a daily face-to-face.

Worryingly, my local superstore is undergoing an overhaul centred on “customer improvements”, which I’ve been informed will see more self-scanning stations, of the variety that accommodate a trolley-load of week’s shopping.

Until there is no option left, at which point I will assume no payment is required and the goods are gratis, I say: resist, resist, resist.

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