This grocery chain is doing away with self-checkout — the reason why might surprise you

This grocery chain is doing away with self-checkout — the reason why might surprise you

Go beep yourself.

Customers of popular British grocery chain Booths found out this week that the company is scrapping self-checkout lanes, just six years after rolling them out in their 28 tony stores, mostly located in the north of England.

The decision goes against a decades-long trend, where human beings are increasingly becoming a rarity at the front of supermarkets and other big box retailers — a shift most industry watchers agree is unstoppable.

“We’re not great fans of self-checkouts,” Booths managing director Nigel Murray told U.K. trade publication The Grocer. “We pride ourselves on great customer service and you can’t do that through a robot.”

The do-it-yourself approach first seemed like an appealing way of managing labor costs and increasing efficiency, Murray said. But he also noted that the technology could be finicky, detracting from the shopping experience.

The upscale Booths chain has decided to do away with self-checkout lanes over concerns for the customer experience.
Alamy Stock Photo
A self-checkout lane at a Booths store, which the company will be doing away with.
Alamy Stock Photo

Booths were founded in Blackpool in 1847, reportedly with a philosophy of “sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, staffed with first class assistants.”

A company spokesperson told The Guardian that the company will remove the controversial lanes from every one of its stores except two in the touristy Lake District, where staff can become overwhelmed during the warmer months.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

“We have based this not only on what we feel is the right thing to do but also having received feedback from our customers. Delighting customers with our warm northern welcome is part of our DNA and we continue to invest in our people to ensure we remain true to that ethos.”

The tony chain of stores located throughout Northern England is bucking a trend some watchers say is inevitable.
Alamy Stock Photo

The news comes as other retailers have publicly revealed their own struggles with automating the checkout and payment process — Walmart recently removed self-checkout options from some of its stores without explanation, while Wegmans, a cult-favorite grocer based in Rochester with two stores in New York City and a handful in the nearby suburbs, recently ditched a popular self-checkout app, citing abuse. 

“SCAN users have told us they love the app and convenience it offers,” Wegmans said in a statement to the New York Times. “Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state.”

According to a 2016 study quoted by the Grey Lady, retailers in the United States and Europe offering self-checkout options experienced a loss rate of approximately 4 percent — more than double the industry average.

King Charles (then Prince Charles) visited a Booths store in Kendal, Cumbria, back in 2008.

The trend toward automated checkout has been partially blamed for the so-called “loneliness epidemic” said to be plaguing some Western countries, where a chat with a checkout clerk might be the only human interaction some people experience in a day.

While self-checkout options were first introduced roughly twenty years ago, many companies leaned heavily on the concept during the pandemic, when customers were suddenly eager to minimize contact with other human beings.

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