I was in Sainsburys today, and noticed that they have started a 'self-checkout' thing. This is apparently going to 'make basket shopping even easier'. Didn't quite seem to be doing that just yet. (The way it is meant to work seems to be that you scan all the items in yourself and put them into a 'bagging' area, and then put in the payment when you're done).
Call me cynical, but this seems rather more to do with them saving a little bit of money (and therefore making more profits - it won't save them enough to impact prices significantly) than it does with making life easier for us shoppers. Not that's it all that complicated, but surely trained staff who do it every day will scan through items as quick, or more likely quicker, than people who've done it never, or only a few times, before. And they haven't created more space - they've got four self-checkouts where they used to have four real checkouts with real, live people at them.
It does provide a nice bit of entertainment as you're waiting in a queue though - it's quite amusing watching people complaining to the screen in front of them, or desperately telling everyone around that they haven't put an 'unexpected item in the bagging area', as if convincing fellow shoppers of this will force the computer to admit defeat and let them get on with it.
Then of course there's the sly trick of giving the change out in two separate places - one for coins and one for notes - which caught out one person while I was watching (they'd have been £10 worse off were it not for the honest person behind them in the queue).
So will it actually save any money for Sainsburys? Well they had at least two staff on hand to help people come into agreement with the computer about the 'bagging area' situation and other tiffs between man and machine, and I think it'd be safe to say that it was taking more than double the usual time to get people through these self-checkouts. So in fact at the moment, it's probably costing them more, even without taking into account the vast amount they probably spent on getting these things to 'work'. I suppose eventually regular shoppers there will get used to them and start to be able to do things almost as quick as previously, but I can't really imagine it will be all that popular, certainly not until they teach the 'bagging area' monitor to tell the difference between thin air and an item of shopping. The only time I'll be trying it is when there's no-one around to laugh at me if I try to pick a fight with the checkout computer.
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