Self-checkout machines truly are the worst part of the food shop

Pat McCarthy is campaigning for Tesco to stop replacing staff with self-service machines (Picture: BAV Media / Change.org)

I’m no technophobe.

My phone is my lifeline. I rely on it for almost everything – connecting with friends, family, getting work, completing work, getting to work, digesting the news and listening to endless true crime podcasts.

Rarely do I use it for making phone calls. I’m sure I’m not the only person who freezes with anxiety when one flashes up, unannounced – as if it wasn’t what the apparatus was designed to do in the first place.

Our dependency on technology is ever-evolving as it has the potential to enrich our lives by making tasks simpler and less time consuming.

But there is one technological advancement that I would argue makes life unnecessarily complicated and laborious – self-service checkouts.

I won’t be the first person to express their rage against the checkout machines with you, I’m sure. Many comedians made a career off the back of routines about ‘unexpected items in the bagging area’. But as more and more automatic scanners replace the role of human cashiers – it’s no laughing matter.

Enter Pat McCarthy, a 69-year-old woman from Brentford who is campaigning for Tesco to stop replacing staff with self-service machines. She hit headlines this week as her petition titled ‘Tesco Stop the Replacement of People by Machines’ reached over 114,000 signatures and counting.

As a volunteer who helps disabled people apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and a trustee of her local disability network, Pat was motivated into taking action when she observed that her local Tesco store was overrun by ‘sort-it-yourself card only tills’.

‘These new tills are not accessible for people who don’t have credit cards and can only use cash, or those with little confidence to use these self-service card-only tills – myself included’.

Self–service checkouts have been around for nearly 20 years. When they were first introduced, we were told they were an alternative to manned checkouts for people who found them more convenient. But as the years have gone by, they have become the rule, rather than the exception.

Last week, I popped to Oxford Circus for a spot of clothes shopping and some retail therapy, but it was far from therapeutic. One store had completely replaced human cashiers with self-scanning stations.

As I was scanning through my purchases and following the screen’s step-by-step guide on how to remove security tags with a magnet, I realised I was doing enough work to warrant being paid an hourly rate.

Instead, I’d wasted my lunch break.

I completely understand that companies want to cut costs and maximise profits – that’s capitalism’s MO. But what about the human cost of people losing their jobs and customers losing their minds as they navigate a service that continues to dehumanise the retail sector?

We need to make a stand to stop working-people being streamlined out of existence

For many people across the country, the conversation they have with a checkout cashier may be the only conversation they have all week. For elderly shoppers, using self-service checkout might be an intimidating if not impossible task. For disabled or elderly customers, lifting and scanning items might not come as easily as the rest of us.

If you are relying on the support and custom of a community to keep your business afloat and your profits in check – of course you have a responsibility to make sure that community is served by you in the best possible way.

Pat McCarthy also pointed out that self-service tills had displaced ‘mainly part-time women staff’.

She’s not wrong.

ONS data from last year shows that 67% of employees working on supermarket shop floors are women, with a large proportion over the age of 45. This figure increases to 70% for checkout and cashier roles specifically.

Anecdotally, I can safely say that the women I would chat with at the counter of my nearest supermarket are gone and in their place is a row of hateful machinery that can’t tell if I’m old enough to buy paracetamol. 

Whenever supermarkets are reminded of the unpopularity of self-service checkouts, they respond with an insistence that they are purely alternatives, and that manned tills will still be available for those who prefer them. That gives little comfort to the person who no longer has a job as a result.

In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of stores that are completely checkout-less. Amazon Go stores and the inaugural Tesco Get Go store use cameras and weighing technology to calculate what customers have purchased and the items are then paid for via their Amazon or Tesco account, meaning they are free to leave the store without going through a checkout.

That’s even more humans losing out on work to technology.

But if prices are kept cheaper and transactions are made smoother, is that a fair price to pay?

Well that largely depends on your societal outlook, and whether or not you’d be happy if your job was taken over by a robot. It also depends on whether you’re happy to sacrifice your data and information to supermarket companies who then monitor your spending habits in order to maximise the profits they can make from you.

It is my firm belief that in 2022, we human beings have a crucial choice to make. Do we stand idle and allow our fellow men and women to be made figuratively and literally redundant in the name of capitalistic convenience, or do we make a stand to stop working-people being streamlined out of existence?

Do we stand by people like Pat – people who believe that humans deserve good old fashioned customer service, a smile and a job? Or supermarket chains who prize profit over people?

If you’re in the former camp, add your support to Pat’s petition, and next time you’re picking up groceries, walk past the chorus of soulless robotic voices and CCTV cameras and head to the queue.

Even if it adds five minutes to your visit – you’ve done your bit for mankind.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.


MORE : How to sign the Tesco petition against self-service checkouts and why is it being done?


MORE : Aldi opens its first checkout-free store in Greenwich, London


MORE : Chaos in Aldi after mouse jumps out of woman’s handbag at the checkout



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