Which store"s self-service tills WON"T turn you into a basket case?


Which store's self-service tills WON'T turn you into a basket case

By
Tessa Cunningham

PUBLISHED:

23:59 GMT, 17 October 2012

|

UPDATED:

23:59 GMT, 17 October 2012

Ten years ago, self-service checkouts arrived in Britain. And with the dreaded catchphrase ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’, they’ve been dividing the nation ever since.

They were meant to save customers time and hassle, but how reliable are they really Not very, if the shopper charged 527 for two pork chops is anything to go by.

Femail gave TESSA CUNNINGHAM a shopping list of ten items — a bottle of wine, a bunch of bananas, pears, broccoli, milk, washing-up liquid, a baguette, a leg of lamb, a reduced-price item, and a group of items on a ‘multi-buy’ special offer — and asked her to test the self-service checkout at five different supermarkets. . .

Bags of trouble: Tessa struggled to scan some of her items at a Tesco self-checkout till

Bags of trouble: Tessa struggled to scan some of her items at a Tesco self-checkout till

TESCO

I wait for four minutes for one of
six scanners to become free. The four people in front of me are all
carrying baskets and all look furious. I soon realise why. Two of the
machines have big white labels saying: ‘Credit cards only.’

That leaves just four machines taking
cash. One is being hogged by a yummy mummy. She’s teaching her
three-year-old how to count.

‘Now Freddie, put the 10p coin in the
little slot here. And if you put in another 10p, how much is that’
While Freddie looks puzzled, we all look daggers at her. It takes four
tortuous minutes before Freddie has finally fed the last coin into the
machine and the queue begins to edge forward.

Once I get going, the process is very
fast. But the barcode on my leg of lamb is twisted, so it takes several
attempts to scan it.

As expected, I need to wait for
‘store approval’ before I can buy my bottle of red. The scanning takes
six minutes. I feel pleased with myself until I get home and see I’ve
been charged the full 4 for my 2.50 cut-price meat.

TIME TAKEN (INCLUDING QUEUING): Ten minutes

ASSISTANT REQUIRED: Once
STRESS LEVEL: 2/10

Time-consuming: Loose items have to be looked up on the system and then you have to wait for them to be weighed once they are packed

Time-consuming: Loose items have to be looked up on the system and then you have to wait for them to be weighed once they are packed

SAINSBURY'S

There are six scanning machines and only four in use by other customers. Hooray. I’ll be out of here in no time. Er . . . not quite.

My first problem comes when I scan my two pears. The fruit don’t have a barcode so I’m directed to a screen full of captioned pictures of fruit and vegetables. I examine my pears. A little red sticker identifies them as ‘Green Williams’ — a variety not on the screen.

The machine freezes. I can’t go forward or back. As I look around in desperation, the assistant ambles over.

Reliable or frustrating Self-service tills have been dividing the nation since they arrived in the UK ten years ago

Reliable or frustrating Self-service tills have been dividing the nation since they arrived in the UK ten years ago

‘Oh fruit,’ she sighs as though she’s on a one-woman crusade to ban anything that doesn’t come pre-packaged and barcoded. She grabs my pears, which are beginning to look the worse for wear. ‘I’ll just key in the number . . . when I can find it,’ she says.

The leg of lamb has a big yellow sticker saying it’s ‘security protected’. As I scan it, I notice the assistant is keeping a watchful eye that makes me feel instantly guilty. But, with just one more visit from the assistant to check I’m over 18 and can legally buy my bottle of wine, I’m done.

It’s taken eight minutes — that’s almost a minute per item. But, as I prepare to pay, I run into another problem. The machine won’t scan my Nectar Card. I call the assistant over a third time.

‘Sorry, nothing I can do,’ she shrugs. ‘You’ll have to go to customer services.’ So I find myself joining a queue after all. I’m behind two women who want clothes refunds. It’s another six minutes before I finally leave.

TIME TAKEN: 14 minutes
ASSISTANT REQUIRED: Four times
STRESS LEVEL: 5/10

MORRISONS

Morrisons
is enormous. The aisles are huge. The displays are gargantuan. Even my
fellow shoppers are built — how do I put this kindly — on the generous
side. So why on earth is the self-scanning section designed for skinny
minnies Pokey doesn’t go near to describing it.

In
contrast to the 20 manned tills, there are three self-scanning
checkouts in an area barely bigger than my downstairs loo. Elbows,
handbags and trolleys are going everywhere. Tempers are fraying. It’s
bedlam.

At last: Tessa's checkout times ranged from nine to 14 minutes to pay for ten items

At last: Tessa's checkout times ranged from nine to 14 minutes to pay for ten items

When I get my ankle skinned for the second time, I look over to the calm of the manned tills and wonder why anyone would choose to do this. The scanner is not just over-sensitive but downright neurotic. It takes umbrage when I try to use one of my own bags and shrieks: ‘Unidentified item in bagging area.’

It seems an eternity before the assistant arrives and manages to clear the screen.

When I try to scan my milk, I have to wave the carton at different heights and at different angles five times before the scanner finally reads the code. And when I try to put my baguette back in the trolley after scanning, it sees red. ‘Item not placed in bag!’ it screams.

I feel like a naughty schoolgirl as the assistant reappears. It takes another four minutes and three more visits from the assistant before I’ve finished.

As I wheel my trolley off, sweat pouring from my brow, I realise that I’ve spent 13 minutes of my life queuing, scanning and being shouted at. Never again!

TIME TAKEN: 13 minutes
ASSISTANT REQUIRED: Five times
STRESS LEVEL: 8/10

ASDA

Better than a machine: Using a checkout assistant can be less stressful (posed by model)

Better than a machine: Using a checkout assistant can be less stressful (posed by model)

There are 14 scanners and all of them are screeching out instructions at full volume. The noise is appalling. But my fellow shoppers aren’t bothered — because they’re all either under 30 and plugged into music or over 60 and wearing hearing aids. I just wish I’d invested in ear plugs.

There’s a big sign above each scanner advising: ‘20 items or fewer’. I soon realise why.

The scanners are even more temperamental than my teenage daughter. Try doing the weekly shop and it probably would take just that — a week.

I don’t even manage to pull the bag out ready for my first item before the machine squawks: ‘Unexpected item in bagging area.’ I jump back in alarm. I want to yell: ‘I haven’t even touched you.’

The assistant wanders over with a cheery smile. ‘It’ll soon settle down,’ she bellows above the din. It doesn’t. I manage two items before the machine stops. Every time I do something it doesn’t like — scan too fast, pack too slowly, breathe at the wrong time — it squeaks: ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’, and packs up.

By the fourth time, the assistant looks decidedly cheesed off. ‘It’s not liking you today, is it’ she says accusingly.

I’m wilting from the stress and hating the scanner every bit as much as it hates me. The whole process took nine minutes but feels like 90. To cap it all, as I retrieve my card, the machine adds insult to injury: ‘Thank you for using the fast lane.’ Fast Who are they kidding

TIME TAKEN: Nine minutes
ASSISTANT REQUIRED: Five times
STRESS LEVEL: 9/10

CO-OP

I fill my first bag with no problem. This would almost be fun if it weren’t for the patronising little voice telling me after every single item: ‘Please put your item in the bag’. It’s exactly the same voice I used on my three-year-old. And it’s intensely irritating.

Then, as I try to transfer the bag into my shopping trolley, the machine freezes. The voice announces: ‘Please wait. An assistant is coming.’ What have I done wrong now

‘You have to give the machine time to weigh each item, otherwise it gets upset,’ he explains patiently. Not half as upset as I’m getting. The machine takes against my reduced item. I re-scan six times before it reads the barcode.

When I scan my baguette, it throws a wobbly and packs up. ‘It doesn’t like baguettes or bunches of flowers — they’re too big,’ the assistant explains.

If a human were this temperamental, they’d be sacked. It’s taken 13 minutes to buy ten items. But at least I was only patronised, not shouted at.

TIME TAKEN: 13 minutes
ASSISTANT REQUIRED: Four times
STRESS LEVEL: 4/10