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Checking out the options: Self-service or Staffed?

Self-service checkouts have been with us at supermarkets for the past twenty years. But it seems that there is now a push for even more and shoppers feelings about them are mixed.

Tills in Tesco


Recently Pat McCarthy set up a petition against Tesco titled Tesco Stop The Replacement of People by Machines. She says “My local Tesco has inaccessible self-service tills with no staff which makes the shopping experience physically difficult and overwhelming.”

She goes on to say that at her mega-store (and probably all over the country), Tesco is bringing in new self-service and sort-it-yourself card only till machines. She says that they now make up 3/4 of the tills.

“These new tills are not accessible for people who don’t have credit cards and can only use cash or those with little confidence to use these self-service card-only tills – myself included. People such as carers, older people, disabled people with mobility problems or lifting problems have to queue waiting for more than 30 minutes.”

Others agree:

Pat doesn’t mind the self-service checkouts but she wants to see more people helping on them. She may have a point.


Let’s face it, they often go wrong or don’t accept what you want. “Unexpected item in the baggage area“, “assistance required“ and, of course, the best “ID required“ Because even though you’re 53 years of age someone needs to check you are old enough to buy wine!

Pat’s campaign started a Twitter conversation with the hashtag #BringBackTescoStaff.

Whilst I believe most people accept that technology moves on and self-service checkouts are probably here to stay, perhaps Covid has shown us that for many, the interaction with a real human being is important. For some people it’s the only face-to-face contact they have that day.

In 2022, supermarkets really should be looking at making their stores fully inclusive. No customer should be excluded from any service that other people can use.


Others feel that self-service checkouts should be embraced. Becky makes a good point:


Whilst there have always been changes like these that have ultimately put people out of jobs, the fact remains that these examples do not exclude people. Self-service checkouts can and do exclude people with disabilities. Likewise for vulnerable people, who might not have the confidence to use a self-service checkout or those who only use cash, where the machines are card only.

I was on Times Radio recently talking about self-service checkouts and the petition. Phil Williams asked a very interesting question. “Do you think Tesco will take any notice of this?“

The petition was at 100,000 signatures gained in two weeks before it got any media coverage in a Daily Mail article, which then went on to get more than 9000 shares.  A few hours after media coverage started it had reached another 7000. At the point of publishing this post it was at 119.685.

I don’t think Tesco will be too worried. But they and other supermarkets may well keep an eye on it.

Their statement suggests that they are not worried, given that it does not address any of the issues raised. A Tesco spokesperson said “Our colleagues and the friendly service they provide are absolutely vital to our stores and will always be on hand to help our customers, whether they are checking out at one of our colleague-operated or self-service checkouts. We first introduced self-service checkouts nearly 20 years ago to give our customers a choice and our stores have both types of checkouts.”

I believe the main issue for supermarkets is having enough staff on hand to help if things go wrong. By increasing the number of self-service checkouts, they will need to add staff to help with the increased number of issues.

In 2015 Morrisons announced that it was to reintroduce 1,000 staffed Express Checkouts for quick personal service.

The BBC article Tesco shopper’s plea to bring back till staff also picked up on the Pat McCathy case and provides other examples of shoppers who prefer to deal with real people.

Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer magazine, is quoted in this article, saying: “On my High Street, the new Amazon Fresh store with the fancy just-walk-out tech is always empty, whereas the new deli, four doors down employs six to eight people on each shift and is rammed to the gills.

“It shows that many shoppers still value great customer service and human interaction and technology won’t always win. So supermarkets will need to listen hard as the market evolves and cater for all needs.”

This is what I think supermarkets really need to keep an eye on. As with so many aspects of retail, it’s all part and parcel of customer service. Customers are clearly demonstrating that they want choice. Some may want self-service, some may want an assistant, some want a mix of both. But one thing is clear, they simply want good service. And that means more staff on hand at the self-service checkouts.



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By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

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