Booths, a UK supermarket chain, recently removed almost all its self-service checkouts.
Customer assistant Marti Stelling shares how the move has affected her job.
The end of self-service checkouts does have some drawbacks for employees, she says.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Marti Stelling, a customer assistant at Booths. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I have worked at Booths as a part-time customer assistant for the last five years.
Booths is a high-end supermarket in the UK. I work there during all my vacations from studying and I like returning because it's a people-centric job.
There's a really big emphasis on customer service. We have greeters on the doors and a café. When you go to a Booths, it's about the experience beyond just getting groceries.
On the cash registers, we're encouraged to start a conversation with customers and make sure they've got everything they want. When disabled customers come in, we walk around with them and carry their baskets.
No more self-checkouts
Aligning with those values is part of the reason that Booths has just removed all self-service checkouts.
At the store in Rippon, North Yorkshire, where I work, we got rid of the self-service checkouts in February 2021. Now they've done it across all stores apart from two.
Two extra cash registers were put in to replace the self-service ones. We also have a kiosk for lottery tickets and cigarettes that can be used if you have under 10 items.
Obviously, you have to have more staff on than if you had a lot of self-service machines, but you always had to have someone manning the self-service tills anyway.
Plus sometimes people skip a few items when scanning their own shopping through. It's become a bit of a joke on social media platforms like TikTok to see "how cheap you can make your shop," but lots of supermarkets make a loss because of it.
Customers had a mixed reaction
There were some negative reactions. People who just wanted to grab something quickly were annoyed about their self-checkouts going.
Even after a year, customers would come in and ask where they had gone, claiming they were there last week.
Customers always seem to take it out on the people who don't make the decisions.
They get annoyed about long queues in busy times and blame us, but we can only do our job, and the self-checkouts being removed is aimed at creating better customer interactions.
Others really liked the change, and many are happy to see someone face-to-face.
A lot of our customers are older and find self-service machines really confusing.
In Rippon, we have quite a big Sainsbury's store – another UK supermarket. They've recently removed almost all of their cash registers. From speaking to my grandma and her friends, they are really unhappy about it.
For an old person, going to the shop and speaking to an attendant might be the only person they speak to all day. If all they want to do is chat and spend an afternoon in our café, they are welcome at Booths.
I think Booths will take away a lot of Sainsbury's customers because of it.
Without self-checkouts, it's harder to buy one or two items
The staff here prefer cash registers because its more interactive, rather than just standing around waiting to help every once in a while.
Manning the checkout has always been part of the job. I don't find the work busier than when we had self-service machines, but there is a drawback.
When we had self-serving machines, it was a lot easier to grab one or two items quickly. Now, it takes slightly longer.
On our breaks, we have to go to the warehouse upstairs to clock out before coming down and buying something for lunch. During a four-hour shift, we only have fifteen minutes. If it's a busy period, you spend your entire break queuing behind customers to grab a sandwich.
Retail technology could catch up to Booths
Booths is definitely going the opposite way to most places and it's true that we are somewhat slow to adapt to technology changes.
New technology is great, but there needs to be people there to help guide people through the changes, especially older people like my gran.
I think the majority of shops are moving toward automated machines rather than prioritizing customer experience.
I hope Booths can survive the way they are, but eventually, I suspect the company is going to have to adapt to these things.
Read the original article on Business Insider