Giving automated checkouts the human touch?

Some of the experiences that members of the Olderview Panel had with automated checkout systems …..

“If I don’t have many purchases I will use them — I don’t like them — I usually need help and I can’t always hear what the automatic prompt is saying as it is very noisy in the supermarket”

“Main problem with self-checkouts are having to ask assistant for help because of ‘age’ check  and system errors”

“They often go wrong or get upset very easily — you end up calling the assistant and take an even longer time than (when) using the ordinary checkout till”

“They seem to go wrong frequently and customers get impatient waiting for staff to solve the problem. This doesn’t encourage me to attempt using this method”

“Because I had problems paying with a debit card and problems getting my club card points, I stopped using them. I’m not convinced that you get the “offer” coupons either [with your receipt]”



More and more automated checkouts are to be found in our large retail outlets. These new methods of shopping can be found in two main flavours; firstly the “self-checkout station” where the shopper is asked to scan and bag their shopping purchases themselves, and secondly the “scan as you shop” hand held devices, these which enable the shopper to scan their purchases as they shop.

What is the response of the older community to these new technologies? Do these new ways of shopping now constitute the norm for older people? or do we avoid them like the plague?

To find out more the Technology Review Community were asked their thoughts about their shopping experiences with (or without) automated checkout systems. The following is what we found.

quote autocheckout


Although 75% of the review community said the supermarket they mostly use have self-checkout tills, only 14% reported having seen scan as you shop devices. 29% of the review community said they used these automated methods of shopping with 42% using them only sometimes. A further 29% said they did not use either of the automated checkout methods of shopping.

No one reported using the scan as you shop devices. We had a reply from a review community member who lives in France, who had never used November-cartoon-760the scan as you shop devices and wanted to investigate the technology. See our latest Views report to see how he fared.

Our reviewers comments, prompted through their experiences when dealing with self-checkout stations, can be broadly placed under three themes of experience, technology and design.

Experience – There is a worry that the weekly shop is becoming too task-orientated with a disproportionate value being placed on making the shopping experience time-efficient.

“When I go shopping part of the shopping experience for me is a friendly greeting from the till person as I believe is the case for many of the older generation, I believe modern technology can be a positive thing but feel we are as a society losing the ability to communicate with each other.”

“It obviously saves time but I think it takes away the added pleasure of shopping. The chat with the person at the till many of whom are local people. Reminders of ‘2 for1’ offers or special offers/cheaper alternatives.”

Technology – Many of our reviewers complained about the seemingly fickle nature of the self-checkout stations, especially concerning the bagging area. This is where the items are automatically weighed as they are placed in the bag, presumably as a security check ensuring that only items scanned are bagged.

“inevitably the process is interrupted with the computer saying ask for assistant, possibly because it
did not recognise your item”

Design – The review community pointed to design improvements mainly concerning the ergonomics of the equipment and space.

“bagging area could be higher”

“it would help if the card reader was nearer to the scanning area (in B&Q the card reader is much higher, in fact, I wonder if a wheelchair user could reach it?)”

“More space around the self-checkouts. To be able to use re-usable bags without causing offence to a machine”


If we are to believe recent news reports, these automated check-out systems are becoming ever more abundant. Clearly the reduced staffing costs for the retailers, along with a potential increase in customer throughput at the till, provides a strong business argument for their continuing uptake.

However when considering the Technology Review Team Members reports, all does not seem so rosy out there in shopping heaven. The equipment does not work smoothly, the design alienates people and often the queues seem just as long (if not longer!) as at the other checkouts. What is going on?

I suspect the motivations behind the deployment of these systems by our large retailers lies more with the economics rather than shopping experience. Throughput is King.

I am not for one moment suggesting that self-checkout tills are not welcome by shoppers, they clearly are used. I do however wonder where this sort of automation will lead to and what sort of shopping experience awaits us in five or ten years’ time?

Some of our reviewers mention the pressure they feel when using this technology and how the whole experience of shopping is changing. They were concerned about what is being lost when talking to a machine instead of a human. It is therefore with a sense of irony that self-checkouts, in order to function properly, need the permanent attendance of shopping assistants. This was summed up perfectly by one Technology Review Member’s comment.

“Make sure there is a member of staff present at all times to help !”


A big Thank You goes to the Technology Review Community for their time and thoughts, and a special thanks to the new members who contributed for the first time.

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