Self-service checkouts #2

My local Co-op food store/shop/supermarket has been recently undergoing renovation, actually another one on Anglesey has been receiving similar treatment, perhaps others are also. They’ve done well to keep my nearest Co-op shop open while they rearrange things, install new refrigerators and install new checkouts. It has been disruptive not only for shoppers, but for staff too.

I’ve been holding-off until it is more certain how things will remain, before I have my little rant here, but today was the tipping point, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The first issue I was faced with was the new refrigerator units. The old ones were big open-front affairs. I would typically head to a couple of these in search of reduced items which would either be laid out at thigh-height, or more recently in one particular fridge, laid out on the refrigerator shelves too (much easier).

But those fridges have now been replaced with tall but quite narrow ones with double-doors on the front. This means that for every item you want to grab or take a look at in further detail, you have to open the door first, and close it again after. Having a shopping basket and bag in one hand can make this quite a faff. I considered the benefit to this type of refrigerator and decided the energy efficiency gain due to them all now having doors to keep the chilled air in was the primary reason. The main gripe I had/have with the reduced-priced items being located here is that they have so far all been slung into the bottom of one of these doored refrigerators. This has lead to me having a fellow shopper hovering around behind me waiting for me to finish rummaging and checking out each item, until they too could check out the offerings, and me having to crouch, almost kneel down in open door of the fridge, with my bag and basket on the floor while I inspect each item, which felt somewhat ridiculous to be doing (not to mention uncivilised and undignified, but perhaps that the price you have to now pay for not paying full price for things). The only way I think the situation can be improved is if each reduced item is left with its full-priced companions so you can see it up there on the shelf, not buried by a multitude of different items.

Beyond this, the layout of the store is now different so I’m having to re-learn where most of the produce is located; it’s bad enough when this happens out of the blue with random sections, but now it seems everything has been delegated new random aisles; the alcohol in now in the middle of the shop instead of a corner, and I think the “cigarette counter” has gone completely (a bold move by Co-op if it has).

Then to the checkouts…

These have all been replaced with swankier-looking new ones. They’re longer too. The conveyor belt is longer and I wondered what the benefit was for this; perhaps to allow queuing shoppers to offload their items sooner, especially handy for basket-carriers like me, or to allow trolley-pushers to get more or all of their items out of their trolley so they can proceed to fill it back up again after they’ve been scanned through more swiftly.

The weird downside to this was that with a basket, if there is no customer ahead of me I would offload my things next to the checkout assistant and then have to walk the two paces back to the end of the conveyor to the stack of empty baskets to deposit mine… which lead on the first occasion to a another shopper almost getting in my way to do this. I should, I suppose, put my things on the end of the conveyor, but then if there is someone ahead of me, there would be a gap on the conveyor between their things waiting to be scanned, and mine. What is the optimum length of supermarket conveyor!? Letting the conveyor do extra work; conveying my items along to the checkout assistant when I could have just deposited them closer seems like a waste of energy… negating the benefits gained from having doors on refrigerators, perhaps!

The second problem with these new longer checkouts was when I came to bag my items after they had been scanned. Now there is a handy “shelf” at the end where I discovered I could place my open pannier and lift out my items from the “shoot”, instead of placing my bag in the end of the shoot as I used to do. All well and good. Except, when I came to pay the checkout assistant I found I was more than an arm’s stretch away, and I had to shuffle my position from the end of the checkout, back round the side, all the time holding my bag which I was still in the process of filling!

Now for the pièce de résistance, the crème de la crème, the icing on the cake…

Self service checkouts.

Upon my next visit there was one lowly manned checkout open, and I’d spied and tried to ignore what I noticed was a gaggle of self-service checkouts. I loathe these things (as I’ve mentioned before). I tried to pretend I hadn’t seen them but only got one foot closer to proper checkout when I was absconded by another member of staff and herded towards the area of mindless nonsense, kicking and screaming; I did protest. “It’s okay, I’ll show you how to use them.” she said, I didn’t need to be shown, I objected; I knew how to use them (I’m a computer technician btw), “I just choose not to use them / I prefer to have a member of staff check out my items… keep you in a job…” My arguments were falling on deaf ears; she had been instructed to instruct shoppers on how to use these beasts; the big bosses were all still hovering around, going over what renovation features still needed addressing, so she couldn’t let me escape now. “It’s okay, I’ll scan your things through for you…” There was no way out.

I stood amongst the six new daleks “self-service” checkouts until she decided which one she wanted me to use. Was I paying by cash or card? Some machines were for one, some for the other [what if I wanted to pay part with cash and part with card, I wonder? Or maybe I have a coupon or credit on my Co-op card?] I told her cash, but then she got distracted by another machine shouting something which she tended to, then I was apparently obstructing another shopper who was telling me to move, but I didn’t know where I was to move to, so I span round on the spot and shrugged my arms.

Finally I was directed to a machine and I had my things scanned through for me. I was told not to put my bag on the part where she was placing my scanned in items (I’ve made that mistake before), so I let her pile them up there until she told me I could put them in my bags already. I had to place these on the floor, and lean down to place my items in them, again feeling somewhat ridiculous having to do this.

I was told how much was due and handed over a voucher, leading the machine to plead, to the member of staff, for a member of staff. I chuckled as she waved a magic key in front of it and rescanned my voucher and membership card, before showing me where I could insert my cash; she refused to handle my cash as if she was now prohibited from doing such a thing. I held my two notes to the opening that was still closed and waited for her to press a few more things on the screen. Eventually the machine accepted my money and deposited my change into another opening. I finished loading my bags and got the hell out of there, wondering how I can avoid the ordeal next time.

While she may have assumed I lacked the confidence to use a machine, she’ll surely think next time “you can’t play ignorant now, I showed you last time,” when actually, if she’d listened to my reasonings, I was refusing to use the self-service checkouts on other grounds; namely, she’s doing herself out of a job.

So how to avoid using self-service checkouts?

  • Stand your ground. Say no. Explain your reasons. I’m not confrontational, or comfortable about making a scene but it may come to it.
  • Use a trolley instead of a basket. I think this is the tactic I will try.
  • Shop elsewhere.

I feel being served by a fellow human being, the brief social interaction, is an important aspect of my shopping experience. If I’m handing my money over to a machine then who the hell am I actually paying? Because I live on my own and work for myself, sometimes I go a couple of days or more of not actually speaking to anyone, when I realise this it can be depressing unless I consciously “make up for it” by pinning some importance on the simplest of social interactions such as the brief hello from the postman/lady, or the “do you need any bags?” from a checkout assistant. If I end up taking my custom elsewhere and have to pay more for the service I want, then so be it, although I do like my bargains from the reduced items!

EDIT #1: I forgot to add that whilst in the pen amongst the self-service machines it seemed like I was surrounded by old people all enjoying the novelty of using these wonderful gadgets. I felt like these people were oblivious to the Orwellian nature of this scene and how they might well live (long enough) to regret to using these things. These are the types of people who are most adversely affected by bank and Post Office branch closures (for which we’ve seen numerous of in this area). Little do they seem to comprehend that once you choose a face-less service such as this the system will quickly phase out the part with the faces and replace it with an inhuman system that badgers you and blesses you with an empty “Thank you for shopping at…” at the end of the ordeal.

EDIT #2: Upon a next visit I discovered a further issue with the new freezer aisles, namely that when there are shoppers selecting items from a freezer, particularly when they have a trolley, they obstruct the aisle somewhat. This is made worse when there is a shopper doing this on each side of the aisle. Upon this visit I found myself slaloming down the aisle. I did however successfully avoid the self service checkouts and the same member of staff who thrust me into their midst last time. This resulted in a nice chat with the proper checkout assistant about how the newly furbished store. She commented on the new Costa coffee facilities… I once had “Costa Express” coffee from such a facility and I wasn’t impressed; why pay for what is termed as free coffee from a machine when for a similar price you can pay an actual person to make it? Maybe more on this in a future post!

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