Nearly one in two U.K. shoppers need help with self-service checkout

May 23, 2014 | by Robin Arnfield

Nearly one in two U.K. supermarket shoppers say they regularly need help when using self-service checkouts, a survey by independent U.K. market research firm Viewsbank has found.

Around 45 percent of shoppers say they almost always or quite often need staff assistance, and only 2 percent claim they never need help.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest complaint about self-service checkouts is the message ‘unexpected item in bagging area,’ which 83 percent of shoppers using self-service checkouts find annoying.

If a scanned item came up with an incorrect price that was priced too high, 90 percent would alert a supermarket employee. However, only one in two shoppers (49 percent) would do the same if they knew that the scan had undercharged for an item, Viewsbank says.

Self-service scanning technology may help save stores time and money, but Viewsbank’s research shows that, given the choice, shoppers prefer the human touch. Just over half (55 percent) say that, if they only had a small number of items and there was a choice between checkout staff and a self-service machine, they’d go for the manned checkout.

In reality, the vast majority of U.K. shoppers use self-service checkout, with just 10 percent claiming to never use the machines. Around 71 percent of shoppers say self-service checkout machines are convenient when buying a few items, while 61 percent use them because they are quicker. Also, 5 percent of shoppers use self-service checkouts to avoid being embarrassed about buying personal items.

“Self-service checkouts do have their advantages such as speed for the shopper and lower staffing costs for the shop, and they generally make shopping faster,” David Black of Viewsbank said. “However, staff are still vital, given the number of people needing assistance.”

Older shoppers are more likely to want to use manned checkouts than younger customers. Viewsbank found that 82 percent of those aged 65 and above would use manned checkouts if offered a choice, compared with 42 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds.

People aged between 35 and 44 are evenly split with regard to manned versus self-service checkouts, while majorities in favour of manned checkouts start at 45 and above.

Viewsbank’s findings are based on an online survey of 1,017 U.K. adults aged 18 and above, which was conducted by its parent Consumer Intelligence between March 13 and 14, 2014. Viewsbank is a consumer research panel that offers members the opportunity to earn cash and win prizes through participation in research such as online surveys, polls and mystery shopping.

Most annoying self-service checkout issuePercentage of customers annoyed
"Unexpected item in bagging area"83%
Staff being slow to respond73%
Other issues requiring staff61%
Bar codes not scanning60%
Wrong prices52%
Person in front not knowing what to do51%
Problems with bags47%
Checkouts out of order45%
Problems with payment methods45%

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Kiosks / Self-Service, Self-Checkout, Supermarkets & Grocery Stores


Robin Arnfield / Robin Arnfield has been a technology journalist since 1983. His work has been published by ATM Marketplace, Bank Technology News, Cards & Payments,Cards International, Electronic Payments International, Retail Banker International, Kiosk Marketplace, Mobile Payments Today, Virtual Currency Today, and The Guardian.

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