/>
X
Innovation

This supermarket doesn't trust self-checkout shoppers, so it installed -- oh, this

How far will the self-checkout nonsense go? Very far indeed.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
A woman scans a container of strawberries at self checkout.

Don't forget the receipt.

FatCamera/Getty Images

The effects of new technology can sometimes creep up on you.

When I first saw self-checkout lanes in supermarkets, I assumed they just weren't for me but would please those who were buying one or two things.

Progressively, though, I've experienced regressive feelings about this lurch toward replacing humans with (imperfect) technology.

I had bad experiences every time I was forced to self-checkout at Heathrow Airport. 

Somehow, the machines would never let me pay without the help of a store employee.

Then I began to think that some humans were actively rebelling, after seeing pictures of long lines of customers waiting for a human cashier and ignoring the self-checkout.

Also: Every major holiday return policy

Next, I learned that some supermarket chains were removing self-checkout lanes because, allegedly, too many customers were helping themselves to unpaid goods.

Moreover, other supermarket chains were now stationing employees to check that self-checkouters really had paid.

I kept wondering what was wrong with this picture. Why were all these fine supermarkets suddenly experiencing a lack of human trust? 

Going to a human cashier is often quicker, as they're good at what they do, know all the codes for produce, and even do the bagging for you.

Going to a self-checkout simply involves you attempting to do its jobs without any prior training.

Now, though, a big supermarket chain has instituted another fine wheeze. The British chain Sainsbury's -- quite a posh place, on a good day -- has installed barriers after you perform your self-checkout duties.

As the Manchester Evenings News reported, self-checkouters now have to scan their receipts before being allowed to leave the building.

Also: How to cut your grocery bill by shopping online

Please imagine the shoppers' frustration. Self-checkout is meant to be quicker. Now there's one more thing shoppers have to remember in order to complete the task.

Well, let's hear the words of one disgruntled Sainsbury's customer: "Essentially they are holding [people] hostage against their will as they refuse to let people leave without scanning a receipt that not everyone chooses to get in the first place. What will they do? Hold someone hostage and rifle through bags before releasing you?"

Very possibly, I imagine. Perhaps they'll have to hire a full-time self-checkout security person, who'll be paid more than they pay the cashiers.

One can, of course, understand retailers wanting to use technology to save money. Supermarket retailing is a low-margin business. Why, Walmart is even threatening to close stores because of an increase in pilfering.

Moreover, Sainsbury's insists this is "not a new security measure and features in a small number of our stores at the self-service checkout areas." (I wonder how the company chose which stores would enjoy this fine service.)

Too often, technology is being used to turn customers into employees, without there being sufficient benefit for the customers.

Also: 10 key customer service trends for 2022 and beyond

Isn't there an unedifying irony in claiming to give customers a swifter way to leave, and then placing a barrier preventing them from doing so?

Technology is always supposed to have an uplifting psychological benefit. Yet here is the precise opposite. Doesn't going to a cashier feel more, well, psychologically liberating? More human, too.

Oh, but perhaps this is just a hiccup. Soon, we'll have little chips embedded in our hands that'll personally identify us. That way, we'll be charged as we scan, directly to our credit cards.

And, let's not forget, the supermarket will know precisely where we live. Just in case, you understand.

Editorial standards