The folly of self-service tills

Self-service Shopping - November 1972
Self-service Shopping - November 1972
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Three words that wind me right up: self service tills.

What next: cook your own food at a restaurant? Pay money to go to the cinema but then get there only to be handed a cam-corder and some props and a really tiny space in which to ‘make your own video’?

Why don’t supermarkets just invent trolleys with product scanners, to save us all from the hell that is ‘self service’?

Because that’s what it is, you know. ‘Self service’ is just another corporate con to slash jobs and save money for big money firms, it’s got nothing to do with making the shopping experience better.

How do I know this? I know this because every (and I do mean EVERY) time I use one, the light goes red and the thing stops working, either because of ‘please place the item in the bagging area’ or some other reason.

So, I end up standing there, looking at the bloke I was going to stand behind in the queue for the normal till as he casually pulls his trolley out towards the exit. I have to wait for a store assistant to slide up in their slidey shoes and waft a magic card in front of the machine, before tapping the screen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it display of nonchalant superiority, before they whiz off to sort out the next red light.

They’re not faster than a traditional checkout, there’s hardly any room to pack your stuff and they leave you more wound up than Donald Trump at a... well, anywhere.

For some reason, the people who run Asda, Owlcotes, have given over half the main check-out area to self-service points.

It’s like entering the world of slow-motion, as you first play ‘hunt the barcode’, then scan/re-scan each item, then carefully place it in the bag so the weighing machine can work out what it is. Bare in mind, I’m saving Asda money by doing this because it’s me doing the work… and then at the end of it all I’m paying them for the privilege.

Shopping is supposed to be a pleasant, relaxing experience but by the time I’d finished scanning everything in slow motion (while marshalling two children), I was livid. I was going to complain but decided to write this instead.

Not wanting to criticise without offering a solution, here’s my two-penneth: instead of ‘self service’, why don’t supermarkets introduce product scanners on trolleys and have the trolley weighed? They could call it an iTrolley.

There would be no need for tills at all, people would just put their stuff in the trolley, wheel it to a weighing pad, then go home. That, at least, would be removing obstacles from the shopping experience, rather than creating them.


Having recently returned from a two-week long camping adventure to North Wales (including the lovely Anglesey), here’ are some random words...

The sound of zips: zips going up and zips going down, zips being pulled up fast and others really too slow, the disconcertingly reassuring odour of camping gas, morning coffee from plastic cups, going to bed at 10pm and waking up at five, brushing your teeth using a cup of water, fried bacon for breakfast almost every day, showers that run out mid-wash, making a Lego version of my son’s video game (which he misses for the first week), torches, more zips, daddy long-legses in the toilets, spiders the size of spades, forgetting to bring the tin opener, finally using the multi-tool you bought (or someone bought you) years ago, long walks over dewy fields with no satnav, sheep; damp bedding (or is it just really cold?), going to bed fully clothed, crabbing, being amazed by all the stars, noticing wildlife, that seagulls are really huge; tent erection dilemmas, buying everything from a tiny local shop, playing tuppenny push on the amusements, eating too many ice-creams, swimming in sea, talking to strangers, living mostly without socks, listening to some bloke playing his acoustic guitar and warbling Oasis songs until 11.30pm and having mixed feelings about it, arguments, visiting castles, beachcombing, rockpooling, more zips.