Welcome to my blog for all things related to business quality (processes, systems and ways of working), products and product quality, manufacturing and operations management.

This blog is a mixture of real-world experience, ideas, comments and observations that I hope you'll find interesting.



The quality of supermarket check-outs

Don’t you just hate the new self-service checkouts? The ones that “save you time” but actually take a lot longer than the normal ones and save the supermarket shed-loads of money at your expense.

Sainsbury’s, Tesco and B&Q seem to be the worst offenders in my part of the world.

Why they believe that it will be anything other than a disaster if the general public operate their checkouts I’m at a loss to know. Even trained operators, who do the job for 8 hours a day, have many glitches that need multiple scanning, manual bar-code number entry, or a supervisor’s help. The general public will only do the job for a few minutes a week and have no training at all, so the probability of failure is multiplied many times over.

My wife tried a new Sainsbury’s self-checkout yesterday; she only had  6 items, “how hard can it be?”

She couldn’t put anything else on the checkout area as she went through the process – it seemed to be weighing the goods before and after scanning to make sure she was scanning them all, so handbags and other shopping had to be scraped along the floor. For the bottle of wine she had to call a supervisor to verify she was over 18 (she’s in her mid fifties!) On two other items the system very loudly said it couldn’t read the bar-code and in each case a supervisor had to be called. For one of these even the supervisor, after several minutes of fiddling around, couldn’t sort it so she had to take everything to a different checkout with the supervisor and re-scan it all.

I enjoy using new technologies and gadgets, but I now insist on going through a traditional, manned checkout because DIY checkouts are so awful. Even this isn’t the answer because the stores now punish you by restricting the number of manned checkouts, which leads to exceedingly long queues, to make you ‘prefer’ the self-checkout solution.

So, let me ask what you think:  This is good quality customer service, is it? This helps the customer and delivers a better shopping experience, does it?

No, I don’t think so either!

UPDATE: 9 December 09 – the BBC have just reported on this subject and reached similar conclusions: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8399963.stm

3 comments to The quality of supermarket check-outs

  • […] Original post by Quality and Product Insights […]

  • Tom,

    We have the same problems here in the US. it is so frustrating to get into one of the self-serve lines thinking you’ll be through quick because you only have a few items only to find that the equipment cant read the bar codes. Because these are self-serve lines, there are fewer store personnel around to ask for assistance when you need it. Here it is ususally one person for 6-8 machines. The only ones saving anything are the stores saving on labor costs.

    Jim Wells

  • Tom G

    Thanks Jim, I thought it was just a British disease as we are said to be a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ – obviously not. I advocate direct action here, let’s all complain frequently until the stores get the message!

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