Self-service tills – you either love them or hate them.
Booths, which operates 28 stores in northern England, has made its stance on the marmite machines clear.
The supermarket is believed to be the first in the UK to move away from using self-service checkouts, which have increasingly replaced manned tills in recent years.
We wanted to know whether you thought other supermarkets should follow suit – and readers were divided on the issue.
Some were largely in favour of the self-checkouts, praising how the machines benefit those with autism and those who simply prefer to swerve human interaction while doing the big shop.
Others pointed out that members of staff often man several self-checkouts which can sometime lead to long queues and delays when issues arise.
Many readers felt there should be a balance between the two options and said Booths’ decision to totally remove the machines was drastic.
Here’s what they had to say:
‘Dealing with people can be hard’
While I understand the frustration with self service, as someone with severe social anxiety, and other issues, dealing with people can be hard. I like having the option to try and avoid human interaction when I am having a bad day.
‘I have no interest in interacting with staff’
I prefer to handle all of my own food items as much as possible, so always use self service. Additionally, I have no interest in interacting with supermarket staff, so the self service option suits me.
Of course, a mix is a good idea for people who think differently. Also some supermarkets have larger areas where you can place items after self scanning, which is helpful for larger weekly shops, and I think more those areas should be introduced.
‘Times have changed’
I have managed a supermarket for a number of years and this debate is often oversimplified. Self-service checkouts were introduced to save costs in what is the most competitive grocery market in the world. Trialed in the US before becoming commonplace in the UK at a time when the economy was booming, shoplifting was still illegal, discount supermarkets hadn’t become trendy yet and there was fierce competition to build new stores and expand ranges.
Times have changed. The police and government have now practically legalised shoplifting making these tills a hot spot for theft, discount supermarkets (who have processes ingrained in their business models that are impossible to replicate for various reasons) have become the latest undeserved darlings of the industry, contrary to popular belief supermarket profit margins are wafer thin (look it up, it’s true) and technology is advancing. Self-service has gone from being a way of generating capital to invest, to something that is now relied upon to keep payroll budgets low in a highly competitive market.
The problem is, mainstream supermarkets are so committed to them now, that in times when they can longer afford to staff their stores without them, yet are seeing eye watering rises in theft, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. So be careful what you wish for. It’s maybe OK for small and expensive chains like Booths operating in a very specific part of that market to temporarily go back to staffed checkouts (trust me, it’s temporary) and for the discounters to mostly stay clear.
But they’re fully baked in to the operating models of mainstream ‘everyday’ supermarkets. Checkout free stores is where they’ll go next, they already exist. Any suggestion that they’ll invest £millions going back to the past is delusional.
‘How is this better?’
I’d rather deal with a staff member in a 10 items or less lane any day over these stupid machines! Had to wait for the helper three times with my small shop today! How is this better?
‘It’s about balance’
I think they should keep both. As an autistic, the self checkout is much better for me. But I know that for others the manned checkout services are much better. Not all autistics will prefer the self checkouts. But for me it helps me get out quicker and reduces need for social interaction on moments I’m already overwhelmed.
Especially given how badly the shops are for being sensory hell. Overly bright lights, stupidly obnoxiously loud music, extremely loud intercoms.. all with the chatter of customers and employees thrown into the mix.
For me, self checkouts make it just that bit more accessible. As I know with self checkouts I won’t have to interact in awkward conversation with someone and I can usually get out quicker before I would have a panic attack or meltdown in public.
It’s about balance. Not which is right or wrong. Having only manned checkouts makes it less accessible for some others like me, but not having any manned checkouts make it inaccessible for others.
To have both makes it as inclusive as possible for as many people as possible. Often elderly like manned as it gives them a chance for social interaction, and sometimes they can get help with bagging.
To get rid of one entirely would just make it so much more difficult for any party involved.
I don’t shop at Booths, but now I wouldn’t be able to anyway! But I do feel the conversation shouldn’t be about which one should be the only one but it should be about WHY we NEED a balance of both to be inclusive and good to as many people as possible.
‘I don’t get paid to do my own shopping’
My husband works at a supermarket and hates them, mainly due to customer complaints and management not staffing properly because of them. I hate them because I don’t get paid to do my own shopping.
However, my autistic daughter prefers them when doing a small shop, but likes a staffed checkout for larger shop. I think bring back manned checkouts and keep a couple for basket shops!
‘I don’t go in for a chat’
People should be able to choose. I prefer self service every time. Not stood behind people telling the cashier their life story, or people with two weeks worth of shopping, when you only have about five items. And the rest!
I don’t go in for a chat, I go in to buy food etc, and want to be in and out. It’s not a social event for me. I would be gutted if they were removed from my local supermarket, and I think more stores should install them. Especially our Home Bargains. Always waiting for them to find a price on something, or some other hold up.
‘I prefer the hand held devices’
I much prefer self service at ASDA and Tesco that allow a hand held device to total the goods and prices as I go along. Then at the checkout out it’s much quicker and easier. This also makes packing easier. At Morrisons the self service can be a pain as it often throws up errors, but I still prefer it to the manned checkout. Just my view, but I want them to stay.
‘Two edged sword’
I understand some dislike self-service checkouts and as a dyed in the wool socialist I hate the idea of people being replaced by automation.
However my ASD means that I also have trouble interacting with people and it can cause me extreme anxiety to interact with a cashier, so I personally prefer to use self-service, especially in unfamiliar surroundings, they’re a godsend for helping avoid becoming overstimulated and public meltdowns for me.
This really is a two edged sword. I think the only answer is to keep both manned and automated checkouts side by side.
‘Humiliating for the elderly’
The self-checkouts can be a humiliating and alienating experience for elderly people, and their voices are not likely to be heard in forums like this.
I’ve seen elderly people taken from a till queue and shuttled over to the self-service checkout by staff, where they stand aside while the staff member madly scans their items and tosses them in their bag before dashing off to someone else.
For some of these people, the trip to the shop may be their only opportunity for human interaction and a chat, but they are denied this and made to feel like a burden to overstretched staff. It’s a sad sight for all concerned.
‘Fast lane checkouts’
I remember a time when there were fast lane checkouts for people with eight or less items which seemed to work well. Why not keep a few self checkouts for those who want a quick shop?
Frankly I can be immensely irritated by people at the front of a long queue who want a long chat with the cashier. I guess we must be tolerant of those who may spend all day on their own and need this interaction. My local Lidl has only a few self checkouts to be manned by one cashier and this seems to work well
‘Why must we suddenly choose one or the other?’
Removing self service checkouts would have a massively detrimental impact on my life. I’m neurodivergent; I also work with people. I love doing that, but it already consumes a lot of energy to mask and interact – something neurotypical people don’t understand. Having to add extra unnecessary interactions to that burden takes a physical toll. Being able to just go in a shop, buy something and leave without being ambushed by cashier small-talk is ideal. I have genuinely left shops before without buying what I need because of being forced to interact with a cashier.
What is most frustrating about this debate is the lack of consideration of neurodivergent perspectives. Even the petition, which claimed to speak for disabled people, ignored us as if our concerns did not exist. This is really common even in discussions around disability – we are rarely asked and rarely heard.
I think to be a truly accessible society, we need both manned and self-service checkouts. There are people who need the services of both – why must we suddenly choose one or the other?
‘There will always be supermarket jobs’
I haven’t seen any workers’ perspectives on this debate in the press lately, which is disappointing but not surprising. Self checkouts are equally a pain for the worker– where a cashier on a sit-down till serves one person at a time, self-checkout staff are stretched out across minimum six or more customers, with the expectation to offer the same sort of friendly, personal service.
The common argument is that supermarkets are “getting rid of people” in favour of self-checkouts, which they aren’t– I don’t think people realise just how much manpower goes into maintaining even an average-sized shop, so there will always be supermarket jobs! The actual problem is that they’re taking what staff they do have and stretching them out thinner and thinner to save a few pennies, and you really feel the burn on the front end where there’s an emotional labour aspect to it as well.
Some of the questions and answers have been edited for this article. You can read the full discussion in the comments section of the original article.
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