Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Changed in the UK since 2006? - Self Check-outs

So where was I? Oh yes, talking about changes in the UK, here and here. My book (see left) came out in 2006, for Americans visiting or relocating to the UK. Although it was mainly about the British culture and spirit, there were a few more practical elements, some of which have changed a bit since then.

Including how we pay for goods in shops. We have had self check-outs in the USA for several years now, but I hadn't noticed them in the UK until the last few years. (It's possible that I haven't been paying attention, but I do know they weren't around in 2006.)

I hate self check-outs with a passion. I fall for them every time. One glance at the mile-long queue/line for the real checkout has me once again contemplating the self check-out. A bit like childbirth isn't it? You think "Oh, it wasn't that bad", and then it all comes flooding back when it's too late. You're either in the stirrups, or you've unloaded your entire cart/trolley and there's half a dozen people behind you. No going back.

For some reason I thought the Brits would have cracked it, given that they have those handy table-side credit card processing machines which I have yet to see in the USA (and I live in Chicago, which has literally hundreds of restaurants.) British self check-outs wouldn't dare yell at you for not putting your stuff in the bag, when it's right there in the bag for all the world to see. They wouldn't stop the proceedings and shout at the top of their robotic voices that your'e just going to have to wait for a supervisor. And there would always be a supervisor somewhere in the vicinity wouldn't there?

Er, not in the Tesco Express in Covent Garden this summer. What a bloody nightmare. Only two proper tills staffed, which therefore forces you to stand in line for the self bloody checkouts. It never occurred to me that it would be quicker to stand for half an hour and have a real live person check me out, so I followed the other lemmings. I counted fifteen self-checkout machines, with one little sales assistant running from one raised hand to another. At one point there were more raised hands than there were people bagging their food.

So yeah, I'm afraid to say that it might be seen as an improvement by retailers, but I'd rather go back to pre-2006 and have a real person (who knows what they're doing) check me out. If you know what I mean.


  1. Considering that just about everything else in Korea is high-tech or somehow automated, it's a little surprising that they don't have these (at least not that I've seen.) Of course, the way the Korean economy is structured, there are people doing jobs we don't even have anymore in the US, like elevator operators, and gas station attendants who actually pump your gas. Frankly, though, I'm perfectly happy to do without self-checkout, and I avoided it like the plague when we lived in the US for exactly the reasons you describe - I prefer to stand in that long line of people - I use the time to read the tabloids, (which I would never actually buy) so it's pretty much a win-win situation. ; )

  2. Not to mention the zen time, instead of self-combusting with irritation!

  3. I don't mind the self-checkouts (although, the thought they take a job away from a person does) but what does irritate me is that they aren't limited. Anyone with two carts of groceries can pull up and start scanning. Ideally, I think they are for the folks who only have one or two items.

  4. In our littler Waitrose in Horsham town centre they have recently starting a new scheme (in addition to the self-checkouts). You sign up and get the right to pick up a little scanner as you enter the store. Then you walk around, picking up items and scanning them yourself as you walk around. they have special bags that fit in the trolly that you put your stuff into, then you go to a machine and check yourself out.

    I hate them. The store soon filled up with shoppers scanning and beeping and generally being in the way as they puzzled over how to work the devices and how or what to scan. And we saw those same people standing in the check out queues if something went wrong.

    After a time, the number of people using the new scheme dropped off considerably. I guess they found out that scanning the goods themselves and then checking yourself out actually took longer than just picking up what you want and having a professional scan and check you out.

    Progress is not always progress.

  5. Oh I do the Waitrose scanner thing and love it though I do shop in a Tuesday, the quietest time, so I don't get mithered by other shoppers as I try to work out how to put something back...as for telco self scanners I have been known to leave all my shopping there in disgust as it tells me to put my item in the bagging area for the umpteenth time when I have already done so!!!!

  6. They seem to have had these self-service checkouts in London for some time but now they have spread everywhere like a very unwelcome virus. Bloody hate them. Can't work out where to put things, where the bar code is, how to pack: I'm all fingers and thumbs.
    Rory however, seems to love buying rubbish from Sainsbury's at lunchtime and tells me it's a breeze: all his pals from school love them too.

  7. I avoid those self check-outs like the plague. I don't like the idea of "a bagging area". It's a bag, for heaven's sake. I put my shopping in a bag.

    Dillons had one where I was in the US, but I used it only 2 or 3 times in 5 years.

    I do like being able to pay for petrol at the pump, though. Why doesn't Britain have that? I expect it's because of all the extra money they make from people buying a pint of milk and a packet of polos on their way through the shop.

  8. I love self checkouts, I can whizz through them in no time! I use sainsburys who have about four self service tils to one staff member unlike tesco who seem to have a ratio of 1 staff to 15 tills

    Also at tesco filling stations you can chose to pay at the pumps, thus avoiding those tempting sweets ;)

  9. I love being able to pay at the pump; it's so handy for parents with very young kids too. You don't have to leave them in the car while you go inside. Also, it means that when it's really cold you don't have to dally around for too long, a huge deal in the middle of a Chicago winter.

  10. Covent Garden anything is a nightmare and yes- these self checkouts are just an excuse to not properly staff the supermarkets. Also how do they monitor theft, I guess the saved costs in staffing is worth it.

  11. I LOVE the Waitrose self scanners - SO much faster....Lx

  12. Britain definitely has pay at pump - I always use it, but it's really annoying if you have money off vouchers but they can only be used in the kiosk and not at the pump. Grrr!

    I use the Waitrose scanner thing, though I always worry that I'll somehow forget to scan something and then it'll be a time where they have to re-scan the shopping to check and they'll think I'm a shoplifter. Ours don't provide trolley bags though - you have to remember your own.

    Morrisons' self check out works better than Tesco's in my experience - less screaming at you there. No idea why it's different, but I shout back at the Tesco's one, which brings the assistant over to help pretty quickly! Handy.

    They're also limited to baskets only over here - at least, they are where I live.


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