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‘We like to talk to people’


Some people love self-checkout at the grocery store. Others hate it. One chain is getting rid of it.

“We believe colleagues serving customers delivers a better customer experience and therefore we have taken the decision to remove self-checkouts in the majority of our stores,” announced Booths, a supermarket chain in northern England that’s been selling groceries for more than 170 years.

“Our customers have told us this over time, that the self-scan machines that we’ve got in our stores, they can be slow, they can be unreliable, they’re obviously impersonal,” Booths managing director Nigel Murray told the BBC.

He noted that Booths stores sell many loose items, such as fruits and bakery products, which customers often struggle with at self-checkout. A shopper might not know one type of apple from another, for instance, leading to confusion at the screen.

“There’s all sorts of fussing about with that, and then the minute you put any alcohol in your basket somebody’s got to come and check that you’re of the right age,” Murray noted.

He also highlighted the importance of the human touch.

“We are a business that prides ourselves on the high standards and high levels of warm, personal care,” he said. “We like to talk to people and we’re really proud that we’re moving largely to a place where our customers are served by people, by human beings.”

Booths is bucking a trend toward more self-checkout that has remade large swaths of retail over the past few decades, with many businesses drawn to the savings that can be realized in the long term by replacing human cashiers.

Response to the move has been divided. Ghee Bowman, an author and historian, wrote on X: “Wow! Let’s hear it for @BoothsCountry supermarkets, pushing back against the tide of self-checkout!”

Another X user seemed less excited, writing: “Went to a Sainsbury’s Local in Buxton recently which had no self checkouts so they brought seemingly every member of staff on to the tills due to a massive queue. People having full convos with the checkout staff despite this. More self checkouts please.”

But as Murray told The Grocer, “We pride ourselves on great customer service and you can’t do that through a robot.” His chain will remove the self-checkout kiosks from all but two of its 28 stores.

Besides, chatting with cashiers is, for many, an important part of the shopping experience, even if it slows things down.

“I love chatting with the staff, albeit briefly, especially as l live on my own. Talking with human staff is important to me. Now that experience has been taken away,” wrote Pat McCarthy when starting a petition on Change.org calling for the supermarket giant Tesco to “stop the replacement of people by machines. It’s gained more than 243,000 signatures.

Booths has sided with this sentiment. “Delighting customers with our warm northern welcome is part of our DNA,” the company said, “and we continue to invest in our people to ensure we remain true to that ethos.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com





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