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Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:00 AM 11th November 2023
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Opinion

To Self-Service Or Not? That Is The Question

 
Photo: Graham Hermon
Photo: Graham Hermon
Supermarket chain Booths has decided to remove all the self-service tills in its stores in what it says is a response to customer demand.

I would like to meet some of these customers because many people tell me that since Booths has removed its self-service tills, everything at the checkouts is much slower. Managers don't seem to realise how the queues grow, leading to long waits at the tills operated by its staff. Many, (I lay my cards on the table as I love self-service) wish they would restore the self-service checkouts. If I wanted to converse with someone I would invite them to the Booths' café for a coffee. Has Booths asked its till operatives if they really want to small talk with customers?

At its Ripon store, Booths is the only supermarket in the city to have an excellent hot deli service. What the managers who work in store or at head office do not realise is that its popularity attracts a lot of lunchtime traffic. Instead of being able to get quickly back to their workplace to eat their hot food, customers have to queue while their food is cooling down. It is all about getting the right customer experience.

Booths' Managing director Nigel Murray told BBC Radio Lancashire:
"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.

"We stock quite a lot of loose items - fruit and veg and bakery - and as soon as you go to a self-scan with those you've got to get a visual verification on them, and some customers don't know one different apple versus another for example."

"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."
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Perhaps Booths should look at the Aldi or Sainsbury's model. Both stores have readily available staff on site that interact with customers at the self-service tills, so it is the best of both worlds.

Martin Brown, CCO of customer service consultancy and outsourcer, FM Outsource, commented:
"With Booths reporting some negative feedback on the reliability and impersonal nature of self-service checkouts, it begs the question of which solution is best? Do shoppers want the speed of self-serve or the personal touch that comes with staffed checkouts?

“In reality, there needs to be a balance. Businesses don’t have to choose between full automation or having customer service representatives. Through our research, we know that ultimately, consumers are looking for a swift, effective customer experience. When we asked people about their customer service preferences, it was short waiting times (61%) and quick resolutions of their queries (60%) that were the two most important elements of service for customers. This compared to just 39% that said they valued the option to speak to a trained customer service operator.

“While it is increasingly important to offer customers a range of choices both in-store and online, the quality of service should not be compromised as a result. This means if automated systems are being offered, team members must always be available, should an issue arise. Businesses can empower their teams to provide a high-quality experience, with the right technology and resourcing in place to enable them to do so.”