The Joys Of Automated Checkouts At The Supermarket

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From Our Man in Swindon:

But this week, things have got out of hand. The human-operated tills are now very much in the minority, reduced to a short row at the far end of the store, like museum pieces. In has come a huge bank of machines. The days of human contact as I shop appear to be over. It will be reduced to me shouting for help when I’m asked for verification of my age upon buying alcohol-free beer. Someone – please God, someone with a pulse – will materialise to check I look old enough (I do), swipe a card, touch a button and that will be it.

And yet, despite there being human-operated tills, the writer goes for the automated checkout.

In the history of shopping, the supermarkets put the butchers, bakers and greengrocers out of business, because the shoppers did the work instead. You didn’t stand in line while a bloomer was grabbed off the shelf for you, you grabbed it yourself and then went to a till and paid for it. The benefits were that you needed a lot less shop assistants which cut cost, but also time for the shopper. You didn’t have to wait for the assistant, you did it yourself. Then you paid once at the end.

Automated tills are doing a similar thing, but the competition is internal. You can take either route, but the human tills are going to be more expensive. Not in money, but in time. Which acts as a disincentive to use them. People take the automated route. It’s sensible, and good customer service, for supermarkets to do this. Not only are till staff a cost in salaries, they’re also a cost in space.You can put multiple tills in the same space as one human checkout. It might even be that doing your own scanning is slower than Britney or Kayleigh, but you get started on it faster. You leave the store quicker and can get back to the important things in life, so customer service is improved by automated tills.

Yes, of course the automated tills are cheaper for the supermarket to operate. But competition between supermarkets each of whom can – and does – buy the same technology makes then cheaper for you too.

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