Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Help yourself

And that, according to recent reports, is what more and more people are doing.  At supermarkets.  By using the self-service tills.  Only not everything they have picked up is actually put through the till; some of it goes straight into their shopping bag, having missed out on the bagging area.  There are, we were told, various reasons for this, ranging from some items being almost impossible to scan (funny how the stores' own check-out operators manage it) to that irritating message telling  of an "unexpected item in bagging area".  And once people realise just how easy it is to sneak something through without paying, they do it again and again.

This "help yourself" habit has resulted in supermarkets experiencing greater and ever greater leakage, as the cost of shop-lifting is called (or so I have heard).  A writer in one of the Sunday newspapers almost but not quite suggested that perhaps we should encourage the growth of "help yourself" until the supermarkets relent and remove the machines.

My first reaction when I saw self-service check-outs installed was that I wanted still to be served by a real person and I avoided the wretched machines.  It was, I decided, just another way in which the supermarket bosses were trying to save money and thereby increase profits.  Then I thought again.

There was a time when drivers would pull up beside a petrol pump and an attendant would dispense the petrol, take payment from the driver, and return with the change.  When did you last have that experience?  And how many people write cheques payable to "cash" and present them to cashiers at the banks?  Nowadays we all - or nearly all, as the Old Bat still writes out cheques - use cash dispenser machines.  There was a time, too, when our mothers would go to the local grocer's shop and stand at the counter (or sometimes sit if a chair was provided) and ask the man (usually a man) to fetch each individual requirement from his shelves.  Now we do that ourselves at the supermarket.

I do still use the manned check-outs at the supermarket for normal shopping, but if I have popped in for just one or two things, I'm blowed if I can be bothered to wait behind three or four people with fully-laden trolleys.  The self-service check-out is much quicker.

Another time I like to use one is when I want to off-load a heap of shrapnel.  The Old Bat thinks nothing of holding up a long queue growing ever longer while she fishes in her purse and counts out 13p in one-penny coins, 26p in tuppences and another pound or so in five- and ten-penny pieces.  I would find that too embarrassing, so I use the self-service check-out to do it.

And anyway, folks who protest about these new-fangled things are, I think, shooting themselves in the foot.  They complain about the supermarkets trying to cut costs - and yet they are the first to moan when prices have to go up.  And I do wonder just how much the supermarkets are saving when they install self-service checkouts.  Our nearest supermarket installed 12 in four banks of 3 and removed four manned check-outs to provide the space.  They usually have two members of staff on hand to help with those "unexpected item in bagging area" problems.  And I very much doubt that more than two of the old check-outs would have been manned most of the time anyway, so where is the saving in staff costs?

No, I am quite happy to embrace the new technology - when it suits me.


Photoshop Elements provided me with a bit of fun this morning.


joeh said...

I only go to the check-out people. But if others like the self stuff...great! But then I'm from New Jersey, the only state other than Oregon where self-service gas stations are not allowed.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

...happy to embrace the new technology - when it suits me."

Me, too.

It hasn't yet found its way to our neighborhood yet, except for the home center in Redding.