Blaise Tapp: Everybody has an opinion on supermarket self-checkouts

These days there are two subjects which are almost guaranteed to spark a lively discussion between pretty much anybody  - the weather and supermarket self-checkouts.

By Jane Chippindale
Monday, 23rd May 2022, 2:22 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd May 2022, 3:08 pm

Blaise Tapp writes: Commenting on the unseasonal conditions with an old dear dragging a tartan shopping trolley or a bloke nursing a pint of Best in the corner of the snug bar has been standard practice on these shores since pointless smalltalk became a thing. However, since the turn of the century idle chitchat has become that much more tedious, thanks to the relentless march of those divisive devices that now appear to be absolutely everywhere.

Rather like backsides, everybody has an opinion on self-checkouts, with one popular take being that they are further evidence of an international conspiracy which would see us ruled by Metal Mickey and his mates.

Brought in to reduce queues, it is estimated that there will be more than a million of these contraptions worldwide within the middle of a decade, which means they must be popular with some shoppers. However, the backlash against them shows no sign of going away with one furious pensioner launching a petition which called on Tesco to stop replacing staff with such machines.

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Pat McCarthy’s complaints that card-only tills ostracise many of society’s weakest has certainly struck a chord, with more than 100,000 people signing her petition in a matter of days. While Pat has a point that many people struggle with automated tills and would prefer to be served by a kind looking granny called Brenda, it is unlikely that the retail giant will listen to the complaints of luddites like me.

Personally, I can’t get on with them, I never have been able to but then I’m no bellwether of how sensible human beings interact with technology - I can just about manage to log onto the system for work each day and my Alexa regularly misunderstands my simple commands to tune into Ken Bruce.

Despite my many misgivings, I still persevere with using these robotills, especially when I visit my local German discount supermarket for a seeded batch loaf and a blowtorch and there’s only one ‘normal’ till manned.

I usually say a little prayer under my breath, asking for divine intervention to prevent me from publicly humiliating myself (again), before stepping forward to do a job that I have neither any qualifications nor desire to do. Pretty much without fail, something always goes wrong for me, be it me inadvertently resting my bulk on the weighing area or being unable to scan a family pack of cheese and onion.

This inevitably means that the busiest member of staff on duty - the poor devil tasked with helping frustrated shoppers in a rush to work a machine that many of us cannot fathom - has to come to my rescue. While they are always professional, I can always detect a hint of a sigh as they sidle up to me and press a few buttons, before getting me back in business.

That’s not always the end of my nightmare because I have been known to seek assistance from a human in an ill-fitting uniform on three occasions during the same shopping trip, further underlining why I shouldn’t be allowed within six feet of anything automated. To overcome my obvious shortcomings, I have started taking my 12-year-old to the shops because she rarely has trouble making these things work, much to my embarrassment.

There was a time when I flatly refused to use them because I believed that by doing so, I was sending shopworkers to the JobCentre but we live in an era where there are now more vacancies than there are unemployed people.

These tills are here to stay, no matter how many of us sign a petition, although more consideration should be given to older members of society, many of whom not only prefer to use cash but benefit from the brief conversation with the person scanning their shopping.

We need to stop the grumbling.

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