Who Benefits from Tesco Self-Service Tills?

Consumer group Which? recently issued a warning over the self-service tills now available in 320 branches of Tesco, highlighting the whopping great security hole in the whole process, that they don’t use any sort of validation on the payment card at all – no Chip and PIN or signature, you just swipe the magnetic strip on your card an you’ve paid. With the moves to Chip and PIN for most transactions, it is a countrywide opportunity for people to use old style skimming techniques at stores countrywide. Interestingly Tesco have said that they are starting to introduce Chip and PIN to the machines – however the new terminals that went into our local branch last month are still swipe terminals rather than Chip and PIN.

The interesting question is who do these terminals really benefit? I tend to use them if I’m buying a small number of items, mainly because the express checkouts at Tesco are always so badly policed. There have only ever been two 10 items or less checkouts at our local branch, and often one other checkout with a sign saying for baskets only, and there is always a significant queue at each. The four self-service checkouts have replaced two normal checkouts, and since most people are reluctant to use them, generally don’t have much of a queue.

The interesting thing though is that the actual process is slower than if you were at a regular till with a properly trained staff member on the checkout. The tills use voice instructions to talk you through each stage of the process – to the point of ‘take the next item’, ‘scan the item’, ‘put the item in the bagging area’ – which is very slow. There are also detectors of some sort in the bagging area in an effort to stop fraud (it detects items being bagged if they haven’t been scanned), however the sensors are not foolproof and in my experience regularly have problems with light items like newspapers. I expect that they also would have problems if you didn’t want to bag something, for example if you were just buying a sandwich. I have discovered that it is possible to force the system to work faster though – whenever it starts on a voice instruction, the scanner and sensors are all set up for the next stage of the process, but it is still a generally slower process.

However the advantage to Tesco is obvious, to run the four self-service tills they need only one staff member, whereas to run another four express checkout tills they’d need four staff members. This also explains why the fraud issue at the tills doesn’t seem to be much of a problem to them – what is a few cases of fraud, all of which are limited at most to a few hundred pounds compared to the savings of only having to have a quarter of the number of trained staff for those tills?

Tesco Sign picture originally uploaded by Nosbig.

Also published on Medium.

30 thoughts on “Who Benefits from Tesco Self-Service Tills?”

  1. Actually it would be cheaper to have four manned tills. the cost of putting in self service tills is ridiculously high. As for the fact they are slower, they aren’t meant to be quicker. they are there to make things more convenient so people with small shops don’t have to queue for miles with their shopping.
    And actually in the tesco we have, all the machines are chip and pin.

  2. Surely if they aren’t meant to be quicker, and they are there for a convenience for people with a small number of items it would be better if they had four manned ten item or fewer checkouts.

    As for the Chip and Pin, ours too are now all Chip and Pin, as I think are most of them now after the Consumers Association kicked up a fuss.

  3. I live in Ireland and our local Tesco (Express) introduced the self-service machines only 2 weeks ago. I was shocked when I wasn’t asked for any kind of verification and sent Tesco an email. Of course I didn’t get a reply…

  4. old people are intimidated by being forced to use the new automatic tills tesco will lose customers
    I recently visited the Northbourne Branch in Dorset there was a long queuewith one member of staff serving no one wanted to use the auto checkouts the member of staff shouts out five year olds can use those tills ….
    the atmosphere in the shop is dreadful now Tesco should put it right

  5. I live in east london, where the tesco metros at rush hour are crammed with young savvy working folk.

    anyway the point is is that most of these customers can now operate the tills seriously fast – as fast as a manned till sometimes, even for bagged items like bananas etc. the 4 auto till line moves really quickly.

    they are gross bleeping machines though.

  6. Almost ended in me being thrown out of Tesco. Because you have to pay tax in Ireland you have to get a bag from the one person controlling six self-service areas. You require to scan it and place it in the bag area! Off course the system does not recognise the bag (not heavy enough!) so you start scanning the goods you are trying to buy. However, you can’t because the system is still expecting you to place the bag in the bagging area. Then you find you need another bag and then scan that one. It does not help that the machines that hold the bags have been designed for British bags. The Irish bags have smaller handles and trying to position them to enable you to scan the products is impossible. As they stretch they brake and the good fell out. When i told the one person that this was a hopeless system she called the Polish security guard and was a bit shocked. He called the manager. So all in all this self service till required three staff and the customer!

  7. Hi to you,

    I have been working with two Self-Service check-outs for about a year and a half now, plus 3 manual check-outs.

    I personally think that there should be a notice to
    indicate that not more than 15 items per transaction. The reason is because most shoppers have that much items at a time and also for security of fraud and hence loss of revenue.

    Thank you.

  8. Hiya
    I think Self service till are great.

    I think ASDA has it right with the Bagging
    If you only have 2 items you dont need to put them in the bagging area, so you just press skip bagging.
    but thats making it open to an other security risk i guess.

  9. I went in to do an article on these tills. It wouldn’t start, froze, then short changed me by 20pence. After I notified the two staff members running round like headless chickens fixing the tills and asked her for a comment she said ‘they’re bloody crap’. Tesco’s ay!

  10. The self-service check-outs has got to be one of the most useless and inefficient systems introduced since the privatisation of the railways. You have to be seriously intellectually limited to want to be told what to do by a computer and to wait around longer while the bugs are sorted. If the supermarkets want us to act as staff then they should pay us the difference. Meanwhile, I see one person at the self service check out, totally confused, while six customers are efficiently served by a till staff member. This is one invention calling out for a national boycott and a return to commercial sanity. What really makes me despair is the bunch of gullible suits who dared not turn down a clearly flawed system so afraid were they of being thought of as technically incompetent and so bedazzled by a smart-ass salesman, only to expose themselves as economic fools.

  11. What fun. Just got back from Tesco, Kingston Park and found the ONLY check-outs available were self-serve (nearly midnight). I begrudgingly started the process but got about 10 items in when I got the “unrecognised object” squawk. No matter what I did I couldn’t clear it and the poor lass looking after these 6 checkouts was running around after other people. She finally got round to me and tried, at first unsuccessfully, to clear the problem. It was at this point I had something of an epiphany and thought “f**k this”. If Tesco can’t be bothered paying people to staff the tills, I can’t be bothered to pay full price for their goods, so I politely relayed this to the girl and walked out imploring her not to blame herself(!).
    May I add that I don’t consider myself at all a technophobe or an idiot and am generally an early-adopter when it comes to technology, but if I wanted to scan stuff in a supermarket, I’d get a job as a check-out operative and not have to pay for the privilege.
    I was half-hoping security would be called to “remonstrate” with me but unfortunately this didn’t happen..
    I guess now they’ll have to get a shelf-stacker to replace all my items.
    Think I might go back tomorrow…

  12. I just wanted to thank the author of this article. I am a student at Coventry University doing a HND in business management, and this article is helping me with my final Coursework of this year. So thanks. =)

  13. i work for tesco and i really dont want the news self service tills to come in but they are.. i am contracted to one saturday!! why couldnt i have those hours as overtime? i’m better than any self service till!
    they will do anything to not have to pay us! they say they have no overtime now i hate to think of how much overtime they still wont have when they put them in =(
    people wont use them unless they are told to use them, everyone likes a nice happy face when they are shopping not some crappy computer thats slow! were being replaced! =(

  14. self serve tills are ok ….people
    should listen to what the till is telling them problem is there is to many idiots going through them ………….and no they will not replace people……..from another tesco worker

  15. I went to the till with a full weeks shopping for one person and was told[you ave to use self service]is there no manned service i asked[naa] was the answer.
    Its not about if these machines work or not it is about the fact that they cannot even be bothered to serve you,what next we have to restock the shelves ourselves,if they cant be bothered to serve me then i cant be bothered to shop there

  16. these machines are an attempt in vane for tesco to reduce costs through wages. however these machines are so pathetically slow and often broken that many customers walk out anyway so they lose sales! load of shite

  17. If ever we had a chance at job creation, then refusing to use theses robot tills could be that chance.

    Why people cannot understand just how many jobs have been lost?

    Obvious question, what shall they do if they want to work. Over a year ago, quiet clear. at least you could rely on a local super-market for a few shifts.

    Seperate issue. When you fail to control the input of an external workforce – how do you control boom & bust?

  18. Tesco implements compulsory self service. Scan your own club card, insert your debit card in the reader at the rear of the checkout and ‘don’t forget to take your receipt’ Well done Tesco for being the first UK supermarket to abandon customer service. With staff becoming excess to requirements expects prices to fall!!!!

  19. I sent this email to the Tesco Chief executive on 27/8/09:

    Dear Sir Leahy,

    Ref: Complaints about Checkouts Evening Closing Policy at Borehamwood Store

    Having exhausted the complaints procedure within the store, I am writing to you on behalf of a number of Customers and I would really appreciate your assistance with our Group complaint:

    Summary of Complaint:

    Tesco have operated a 24 hour service at the Borehamwood Store for some years now and as residents of Borehamwood we find this very beneficial.

    However over recent months this pleasure and benefit has been severely marred by what appears to be a new policy of closing all your manned checkouts between 10pm to 11pm for the remainder of the night. Customers then have no choice but to use the self-service checkouts. This is not practical for many customers and many of us are now very angry. I am in the process of setting up an Action Group, Petition and Media pack (subject to your initial response).

    Whilst some customers like the self-service checkouts, there are many of us who don’t. E.g. disabled people, people who aren’t feeling 100% fit, people who can’t cope with the stress of self-service tills, people shopping on their own without anyone to help them, people with big full trolleys, families with young children, lonely people who like someone to speak to, people who need assistance with packing their bags, people who like to feel they are treated with respect and people who just want to put their items through a manned checkout where it is much easier to unload and load up their goods. Tesco’s have clearly not considered the impact of this policy on any of these groups of people.

    In practical terms – I spoke to a number of other customers tonight (who are now part of this Action Group and some who are copied in on this email) and we all had large trolleys of items, whilst on this occasion we were all able to use the manned checkouts, had any of us joined the queue a short while later we would have had no choice but to use the self-service checkouts. It just simply isn’t practical to unload 100 or so items, self-scan them, put items in the packing area which then starts to overflow, whilst you are still trying to unload and scan what is still in your trolley etc. I can’t repack my trolley till its empty by which time my goods are now being placed on the floor – this is very unhygienic! My goods get damaged as I am trying to do all these tasks without any assistance and a lack of packing space available and I end up feeling highly stressed and anxious, knowing there’s a big queue of people waiting for me and the other customers to hurry up, along with the self-service tills frequently coming up with error messages etc. Then there is the poor Checkout Employee who supervises these 8 self-service tills without any other staff support, and who gets no end of grief from the queuing customers and is also trying to deal with all the till errors/assistance required messages on these tills. I would politely like to challenge you to do this job one busy evening so you know what happens in reality. I would also like to seriously suggest that customers using the self-services tills get a discount off their shopping for having done the checkout work themselves!

    Last week, by luck, one checkout was manned till later in the evening (I was so thankful) – there were 15 people in this queue – I was fourth and it still took 30 minutes before I was served! The self-service queue was 30-40 people long, with 8 people using the checkouts. I would politely like to ask you to visit this store on say a Thursday evening between 10pm to 11.30pm and see for yourself the chaos that is going on, the level of complaints and the feeling of the customers etc.

    I do also feel there is a serious potential risk for both customers and staff’s health and safety e.g. with customers anger getting out of hand and an incident occuring or injuries occuring from trying to use the self-service tills and the likely increase in damaged goods and spillages etc! Has a risk assessment been carried out? The bad publicity and legal costs don’t bear thinking about! All because Tesco want to save some money ………….

    Progress with Complaint:

    I have complained in-store on a number of occasions and quite frankly I hit a dead-end with store staff and managers who said they sympathised but it wasn’t down to them. Last week I spoke to a slightly more helpful member of staff who informed me that the complaints were now being passed on to head office, along with photographs of the evidence of the long queues. Well the problem is still occurring!

    So the buck is now being passed fairly and squarely on to yourself, in the hope that you can help us resolve this ridiculous policy. Of course, you may not even be aware of this situation.

    What do we the Customers understand and what do we the customers want Tesco to understand?

    We understand Tesco’s is a business and want to make a profit – that’s fine – we know from the media that Tesco do in fact make a substantial profit. So if Tesco do want to still cut costs, please do this where it doesn’t impact on the customer or frontline staff, who are worth their weight in gold. Instead cut costs and reduce salaries higher up the hierarchy if you really want to save money!

    If it helps focus minds – between myself and the six other customers I spoke to tonight, we have probably spent around at least £500,000 to £1m over the years at Tesco and all we want in return are reasonably priced items and a good customer service.

    Bearing in mind that Checkout Operatives get paid something between the minimum wage to maybe £8 per hour if they are lucky – then to man one of the checkouts for a further three hours will only cost Tesco say a maximum of £24 per day – even if you times that figure by all the stores with this new policy I think you’ll find it is worth it by means of keeping us customers happy! I think Tesco’s money saving idea of doing away with this longer manned checkout service is an argument rather dead in the water if I may say so! As customers we all know that bigger savings can be made higher up the hierarchy!

    What do we the Customers want as the solution?

    In simple terms all we want as customers is a choice of checkouts – manned checkouts say until 1am and self-service the rest of the night and good customer service and respect.

    Thank you for reading this email and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.


    Sue Alford – Borehamwood

  20. I was aided by one of the automated check out assistants, at an automated check out., when some items fell of the scale, and the assistant reset the scale and helped me put the items back. This resulted in a couple items not scanning. Security stopped me leaving and threatened to send me to jail because £2.50 of £35 bill were not scanned properly. The police came and looked at the cctv and told tesco to F** 0ff and let me go.

    Too bad you blackmail didnt work on me Tesco. Thanks London police for seeing through Tesco scam.

  21. Pretty sad stories, i hope someone in Tesco is making notes and preparing next steps..as they sy in Tesco – "Every little helps…."

  22. if you really want a complaint heard write to terry leahy(he actually reads those). any thing else even e-mails are read by staff earning £8 an hour who have to answer 7 e-mail or letters in an hour or they get diciplined

    1. tesco: – re your suggestion to mail Terry Leahy. I have had an ongoing complaints saga involving 16 emails to Tesco complaints regarding the self annoyance checkouts at Beccles store. I used this store one evening and there were only self service checkouts in operation (4 of them with 4 staff trying to help frustrated customers!). I spoke to the manager at the time who said he no staff trained to use the normal checkouts. My mail to Leahy simply told me that all stores will open normal checkpouts on request.
      He obviuosly didn't read the complaint as it was to complain that the normal checkout was not available. A totaly unsatisfactory response from a totaly unsatisfactory organisation.
      I have spoken with me feet and have not used any Tesco stores or filling stations since this and I encourage everyone who has any issue with them to do the same.

      1. Hold on a minute. I Work for tesco.

        The point in self scanning, is for people to scan small items faster & avoid queues. A Member of staff is always at the self service incase something goes wrong, or for any questions. Selfservice also benefits the store as less staff are required to serve during quiet hours. This means that they can focus on stock etc.
        The self service isn't slow, it's the people, who don't understand the machine saying "Please place the item on the bagging area".
        Sir Terry Leahy Propably didnt get your email, do you know why?
        He is a chairman of Tesco, Running aprox 5000 Stores Worldwide, Thinking of ways to improve tesco FOR CUSTOMERS. Trying to get more stock in, improving tesco etc etc. Tesco is the top retail buisness in the Uk, Above Asda, Morrisons & Everyone else, and it's all to do with him, no wonder he didn't reply, simply because he has different things to do.
        Nowadays, when you go into a store, look at your receipt, it asks "How did we do" and asks for feedback. So if something is wrong with Tesco service, ask for a comment card, or e-mail.

  23. Tesco self service machines are poorly designed. I lost £1.00 as it bounced out of the collection scoop and went done a crack.

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