“Unexpected item in bagging area”

Morrisons is the latest of the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets to pull the plug on the self – service initiative, with 3,000 self-service tills across the country to be phased out in the next few weeks. This comes only weeks after Tesco announced last month that it would do away with the ‘innovative’ service after research carried out concluded that 60% of shoppers preferred a manned – till.

Self-service tills were originally introduced a decade ago as a means of cutting costs and boosting profits for retailers by reducing the number of checkout staff they needed. The end result being an aggravating experience for customers and a service which isn’t entirely efficient.

Whilst time-poor customers would argue the merits of the service, such as shorter queuing times, no idle chit chat between customer and staff, others may have a different opinion. There is an almost certainty that you’ll hear the sound of an in-human robotic voice repeating joylessly “unexpected item in bagging area”, coupled with the fact that when buying alcohol or any sharp implement you will be asked for age identification, which, when nearing the age of 30 and have a bald head is slightly irritating.

A study published last year also found that self-service tills had given some shoppers sticky fingers with one in five admitting they failed to pay for items. Shoppers said the most common reason for failing to pay was simply because they found it very difficult to get the scanners to work properly. Consequently, rather than spend an age trying to get the scanner to work or hunting around for a member of staff to help, they just put the item in their bag.

Morrisons aren’t scrapping the idea entirely though. Time-poor customers told the retailer that they still liked the convenience of self-service tills but wanted a better experience. As a result, the supermarket has re-recorded the voice on 3,000 new self-service machines to be ‘friendly, human and polite’.

The retailer has also decided to reintroduce staff to 1,000 tills for customers with baskets of ten items or less in response to shopper anxiety. This move could be credited to Morrisons’ drive to improve personal service and to win back shoppers who have migrated to stores such as like Aldi and Lidl.

So the question has to be asked, can technology adequately replace people on a customer service level? Yes and no, but if this move by Morrisons and Tesco says anything, is that there will always be a need to have people as part of the supply chain process.

1st Sept 2015