The loves and hates of the self service checkout

Back in April, Morrisons announced that it was to reintroduce 1,000 staffed Express Checkouts for quick personal service. So what does the anti social cow think of the self service tills and the move to offer more staffed tills?

Is it the right move by Morrisons, not so long ago the big push was for more self-service tills?
I think it probably is. Most people who talk to me about supermarkets hate self service tills.  They feel for people who would have a job if it wasn’t for the self service till and many of us loathe them because they don’t always work and you have to call someone over because it doesn’t accept a coupon or doesn’t recognise an apple or asks if you are over 18 when you are 83, which annoys us as well as slows down the experience defeating the object.  Then you have our children trying to scan things twice and there are those of us who would say that actually it should be “10 items or fewer” not “less” of course! I think it is about having the choice and a balance of types of checkouts though. In theory I should love the self service checkouts, in reality they annoy me because they go wrong and then I have to ask someone for help which annoys me more than being served by someone wha talks to me!

Are the big four supermarkets returning to focus on service now rather than price? Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both promoted the fact that they have put more people on the shop floor.
I think they have to don’t they? The latest Which? campaign on supermarkets pricing confusions shows that they are all as bad as each other in pricing. This means that if a consumer is not using the discounters then there has to be something over and above choosing a supermarket on price. I think, as I have said many time before, the supermarkets simply need to listen to customers more. As I discussed here I don’t think Sainsburys are doing that very well at the moment. Tesco is certainly better at listening under Dave Lewis than his predecessor but he couldn’t have been more ignorant in my opinion! But they still have a looooong way to go if they really want to turn around Tesco fortunes.

Will more checkouts or self services speed up shopping?
Depends wholly on how many other tills are open and how busy they are! So long as they react to how many shoppers are on the floor at one time and don’t stay stuck on this is how many tills we have open at this time. They need to be proactive and ensure that there are enough tills open at all times. There was once was a time when a supermarket had the “more than one person in front – we will open another lane.” Putting that in place might be more effective

When I was on Radio 5 discussing self service there were two presenters. One liked the self service because he didn’t have to speak to anyone but like me hated the things that went wrong. I said the supermarkets need to bring in lines specifically for chatty people and another for us anti social people. He loved the idea suggesting Gaffa tape for the assistants. At the risk of assistants taking offence this did amuse me.

What are your thoughts on the self service checkout and do you use them?


Tesco figures show that listening to customers pays off

Tesco figures show that listening to customers pays off 

Tesco has some good news at last to share at its AGM today. The first quarter trading statement shows an improvement in UK like for like sales of 1.3% and an increase of shoppers by 180,000. Consumer rights blogger, Helen Dewdney aka The Complaining Cow and author of “How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!”, is not surprised by the figures. Having met Dave Lewis a few times, she believes that he is being true to his word that he is listening to customers, as he has promised. “Couponing instead of just reducing prices has been something that customers have been complaining about for years” she says. “At long last Tesco is looking at this issue and it is paying off.” Whilst the supermarket price wars continue there is a point at which they will all have to flatten out and it is at that point that the supermarkets will have to offer something over and above prices to entice in customers. In contrast with competitor Sainsbury’s, which recently announced its first annual loss in 10 years, Tesco is certainly on a turnaround, the result, suggests Dewdney, of some real improvements internally and externally. Dewdney says “It looks like Tesco may be starting to lead the way in providing something different. It still has a long way to go in improving service and in other areas but Lewis has made a good start including taking the lead in ethical issues such as working with charities in distributing food that would normally have been thrown away.”  

Notes to editors:


Website: “How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!” by Helen Dewdney, current Amazon consumer guide bestseller having recently reached number 1 in Kindle and 3 in paperback and a 3rd edition is forthcoming.

15 Great Words to Use in Complaints

Here is a list of excellent words that I frequently use in complaint correspondence. Remember you should remain objective when it comes to describing events but you can say how you felt about them. Don’t exaggerate. Various words carry differing levels of strength so you should use what you believe is proportionate. Use these words carefully. More tips about how to complain effectively here.

Often used with “really”,  “absolutely”, “blatantly” and “utterly”

You can use these when describing the service you have received about a faulty item or poor service etc. This will help when you include your rights under the relevant laws, in particular the Consumer Rights Act 2015 

You can also get more advice, tips, information and templates for your letters and further information in the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, redress & Results!

What words do you like to use in your complaint correspondence?

How to get answers from Government & other public bodies

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

Freedom of Information Requests can be made of any public body:

government departments, and other public bodies and committees
local councils
schools, colleges and universities
health trusts, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries
publicly owned companies
publicly funded museums
the police

You can ask any information of these public bodies. Public bodies use pubic money and you have an entitlement to find out how it is being used. For example, the expenses scandal broke because of Freedom of Information requests –used well they can be powerful.

You can write to any public body directly. Contact details for doing so will be available on the organisation’s website. You can also make your request public by using the WhatDoTheyKnow website, asking your question through this site will get your request to the right place and also be made public as will the answer. check it out to see the sort of things that have been asked.

Why FOI post on a blog about consumer rights?
Well, because as well as it being your right to find out information about how your money is spent, it can also help give you information you may need to strengthen your complaint. For example asking how many staff are meant to be on duty in ward between set times on set days if you want to complain about understaffing in a ward and have no idea how many staff there should be on duty.

Public bodies must respond within 20 days. There are exceptions to providing information. Some sensitive information isn’t available to members of the public. If this applies, the organisation must tell you why they can’t give you some or all of the information you requested or it might ask you to be more specific so they can provide just the information you need.

An organisation can also refuse your Freedom of Information (FOI) request if it will cost more than £450 (£600 for central government) to find and extract the information. That includes administration time. If you have more than one question send them as separate requests.

If the body has not sent you their response within the 20 working days you can report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

1) Don’t ask for qualitative information. e.g. why did the organisation make a decision? You would need to ask for copies of meetings regarding xyz and then see for yourself how the decision was made.

2) Keep a note of the date you asked the FOI and chase on the 21st working day threatening to report to the ICO if you haven’t had a reply.

3) When you email an FOI you should receive an email saying that your email has been received, if you do not receive this, follow up to ensure that it has been received and get a reference number.

4) When you receive your confirmation, keep their reference number should you need to follow up if you haven’t had a response then you will need this.

5) Check the public body’s website for the information, if the information is available and online the public body will send you a link it is not obliged to answer detailed questions or post you the information if it readily available.

6) Follow the complaint procedure if you do not agree with a decision not to provide you with the information. This will be using the internal complaints procedure explaining clearly your arguments for why you don’t agree. If you remain dissatisfied you can take the matter to the ICO.

Real examples of FOIs I have made

CCTV parking offences. A couple of years ago I asked how much money was generated from the car in our borough which sits at the end of a road and “catches” people turning left. (Which in my humble opinion is utterly pointless- if they turn right they can turn right again instantly and turn round in the short in/out road to a car park causing more disturbance to pedestrians than turning left). I was given piles of information! Some I wasn’t given because the work was up to tender and therefore deemed as “sensitive”. It was an incredibly high amount which more than paid for the staff and vehicles. Unfortunately this was before discussions and rulings about CCTV being income generating…

Police. Last year someone was putting stickers on keyholes giving the number of a locksmith. This number was unobtainable. Stories about this happening previously in other boroughs had been in the media over the last year or so. The story went that burglars were putting on these stickers and if in the following one or two days they were still up then the house was empty and could be burgled. The local paper ran this story, Facebook posts were shared all over the place and a head teacher of at least one school sent this warning home. People were very worried about a rise in crime and violence with these robberies.

I emailed our local police. Firstly I asked if there was truth in this story and if so what they were doing about it and why they weren’t warning residents I was told that actually there was no truth in the story whatsoever. A neighbourhood police officer had actually caught someone putting the stickers on doors and confiscated the roll to prompt his boss to ‘phone the police officer. He duly did so. This was a new company who thought that this was a good idea to drum up business…. before their ‘phone lines were in use. I don’t suppose I need to state my opinion on that!

However, people seemed certain that they were hearing of far more burglaries than the previous year so I asked some FOIs regarding the number of burglaries in the previous 8 weeks and for the same period in the previous year, how many were with violence and roughly day or night. There was no increase, only one with violence and that one they thought was more suspicious. The media and people’s perception (perhaps with so much social media activity) was unfounded. I was therefore able to share all the facts on Facebook local area group pages, on my page etc., and alleviate some fears. The local paper never printed the correct story despite requests by the police. So an answer to an FOI can also stop you sending in a complaint if it gives you different/more information.

Department of Work and Pensions. I am unfortunate enough to have Iain Duncan Smith as my MP. Luckily I have never had to meet him to ask for him to help me with anything. However, I took it upon myself to challenge him regarding food banks, cost of living and ATOS. I went twice and recorded the events. The write ups can be found here and the clips on my YouTube channel Helen Dewdney. I asked various questions of the DWP, some I forwarded to activists, and others I shared on my Facebook page, such as the number of verbal and physical threats made to staff.

For further information about how you can use the information you glean to pursue complaints see the book.

Mis-sold a contract? How to get out of it

I think that the Communications sector is the worst for communication and is thoroughly appalling when it comes to customer service. I’ve taken Virgin to CISAS, the communications ombudsman twice (won both times) for starters. I also wonder if the fact that this is the only sector that has two Ombudsman services (CISAS and Ombudsman Services Communications) is because they have twice the amount of complaints than any other sector!

Ben bought a mobile ‘phone from Phones 4u and a contract with Vodafone. Ben bought a ‘phone with a Vodafone contract from Phones 4u. He was told that after one year the monthly fee would reduce by £5.00 a month but this did not happen.

Ben wrote to complain to Phones 4u and was offered £60 as a goodwill gesture (i.e. the difference). Ben’s letter stated that he actually wanted to terminate the contract but both Phones 4u and Vodafone refused to do this. We emailed CEO’s, heads of operations and we had to refuse to pay for transactions of ‘phone calls when Vodafone refused to deal with anything in writing! We quoted the Misrepresentation Act and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (a misleading practice because it would appear that the sales person led Ben to take a different transactional decision than he might have taken if given the full correct information.) As stated on the Advice Guide “If the statement made by the sales person is false and it influenced your decision to buy the service, this is called misrepresentation. If this is the case you can cancel the contract without charges and may be able to take legal action for compensation. A false statement which influenced your decision to enter into a contract is also an example of an unfair commercial practice This is a criminal offence” We got a further £90 from Vodafone.

For ensuring that you are not paying too much for your mobile ‘phone see this great post from SkintDad 4 Ways to Stop Overpaying For Your Mobile Phone.

See All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers for various posts about consumer laws, rights and contracts, how to complain etc.

How to Complain: The essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!



More advice, guidance, tips and template letters for the most common complaints against your telecom provider GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!