DUNCAN BARKES A curse upon the self-service checkout...

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We need a customer rebellion! Across the land we should rise up and strive to rid supermarkets and convenience stores from the growing onslaught of self-service checkouts.

These demonic machines generate stress and anxiety. They also show how little respect supermarkets have for the customer these days.

It is utterly perverse. The big supermarket chains wage a weekly war in the battle for our custom. Millions are spent on advertising campaigns; every possible incentive is dangled in the hope of gaining our loyalty.

Reward cards not only encourage you to shop with a particular chain, but also monitor your shopping habits. Dare to shop elsewhere and within weeks a booklet of vouchers will appear in your post, containing discounts on your favourite products.

The battle for custom is complex and sophisticated, yet when the stores lure us in they often task us with not only scanning our own shopping, but packing it as well. It simply shows utter contempt for the customer.

These blasted machines first started infecting our stores two years ago. Then we were told they were being trialled and that customer feedback would be taken into account. What utter guff.

Nobody I know has ever sung the praises of an encounter with a self-service checkout. People despise them.

Some silver-tongued, snake-oil salesmen from the supermarkets will no doubt have us believe they exist to reduce queues, and thus to improve customer service, but the reality is entirely the opposite.

A little market research on 
my part reveals shoppers would rather queue at a traditional checkout than face the challenge of dealing with an impersonal and highly-temperamental machine.

People would rather interact with a real person who may, depending on where you shop, offer conversation and a smile. These self-service affairs are simply stroppy robots who bark at you like a demented Dalek if they can’t read the barcode on you bubble bath.

The last time I attempted to use one of these ghastly things a voice devoid of any kindness or sympathy screamed: “Unidentified item in bagging area!” I half expected some jackbooted, baton-wielding special policeman to arrive and drag me off to a cell and rough me up.

Aside from being no more than a two-fingered salute to the customer, these machines also replace real human beings who have been doing a job.

Eurostat, the EU statistics service, says the average hourly cost of labour to an employer is £17.50 an hour. If, for example, a branch of Tesco Express is open for 16 hours a day, and has two self-service checkouts replacing people, this represents a significant saving. The customer suffers while the supermarkets continue to coin it in.

They are all it. Not only the ‘big four’– Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons –but also, surprisingly, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are increasing their use of these machines. I believe this will dent their reputation for outstanding customer service.

I say we vote with our feet and boycott these tyrants of technology. I do not believe I am alone in wanting to be served by a human being and not some infuriating contraption.