Self-service supermarket checkouts drive me crazy!
Why would the voiceover woman imagine that having been out into the world, obtained money, navigated my way to a supermarket and negotiated my way round it selecting from the dizzying array of products to fill my basket, the concept of scan, bag and pay is going to be beyond me?
“Have you swiped your Nectar [loyalty points] card?” she asks innocently. Both you and she are fully aware, of course, that she wouldn’t be asking if you had swiped it, so clearly she’s just been told that people respond better to questions than instructions. She’s been misinformed.
How the employees who have to listen to her all day – often from multiple machines at a time – don’t go mad and start throwing tinned goods at her smug, complacent screen I do not know.
Please scan your first item.
Please place the item in the bag.
Unexpected item in bagging area.
Please wait for assistance.
Have you swiped your Nectar card?
Please insert cash or select payment type…Please take your change…Please remove your items…Please place the item…Have you swiped your…Please insert…please place…please wait…AAAARGH!!
In The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd mention a particular – and at one time very common – shade of green paint “which is supposed to make you feel comfortable in hospitals, industrious in schools and uneasy in police stations.” The self-service checkout woman’s voice, clear, soothing and utterly implacable, reminds me of that shade of paint. Were I George Orwell writing of a figurehead overseeing a dystopian future world, I would not invent Big Brother – far more threatening to have Self-Service Woman as Big Sister watching your every move and asking calmly and quietly, ‘Did you wash your hands? Have you met your productivity targets today? Have you swiped your Nectar card?’
Before this turns into an uncontrollable rant (too late?!), I do have a genuine and serious concern about these machines. I think they’re harmful to society – and not just because they induce rage in otherwise calm and orderly members of the populace like myself.
Think about it; their sole function is to enable supermarkets to serve more customers with fewer staff. I’m far from an anti-capitalist, but this to me is just wrong.
One of the arguments often put forward in favour of the big-brand supermarkets is that they provide employment – where once one bought groceries from a family-run store employing maybe two or three people, now a supermarket comes in and provides jobs for many more. If the supermarkets are now doing away with cashiers, however, how many more jobs are they really creating? Yes, they have shelf-stackers, but they have saved themselves multiple man-hours at the customer-facing end, having just one person to oversee half-a-dozen tills. And the profits flow directly to the big bosses and shareholders, not to the communities their shops claim to serve.
Over and above the economic point, there is a social one; I prefer to go to an actual manned till because I appreciate the human interaction. I like the fact that some of the checkout people at my local supermarkets are starting to recognise me. My parents actually look out for a couple of staff members at their local supermarket and choose their tills when possible because they have built up a rapport with them over the years. The exchange of a few words of greeting can make all the difference when you’re tired, stressed or feeling low – and perhaps you can make a difference to the checkout-girl or –guy’s day. Making eye contact and saying a genuine hello, thank you and goodbye might just make her/him feel more like a human and less like a machine.
If the self-service machines genuinely made the experience quicker, more efficient and altogether more pleasant, I think I’d have a harder time making this argument, but they don’t. I used one the other day (because the shop I was in has removed all staffed checkouts, so I had no choice), and the till next to me was visited by two people who had never used one before. One lady was Scottish and just needed a little human direction (because the naggy voice actually doesn’t give you confidence that you can follow her instructions), which I gave her, the employee being busy with other problems. The other clearly didn’t speak any English and had no clue what to do. The employee was quite short with her (because again, he was distracted by trying to solve other people’s problems), and I felt ashamed of the ‘customer service’ she was receiving from us.
So I end this rant with a request: please vote with your feet and boycott the soulless, inhuman, unhelpful self-service checkouts and allow yourself to be served by a living, breathing human being, capable of nuance, initiative and relationship. Resist the drive towards faceless efficiency and self-serving consumerism. Emerge from your bubble and make contact with another human being; you’ll be doing yourself and your community a favour.