Self-service: Booths supermarket puts staff back behind its tills

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Booths, which was founded in Blackpool in 1847, says the move is the right thing to do
By Daniel O’Donoghue & Paul Burnell
BBC News

A supermarket chain has become the first in the UK to go back to fully-staffed checkouts, axing almost all its self-service tills.

All but two of Booths’ 28 stores will see staff back on the tills, the firm, which trades in northern England, said.

The exceptions are Keswick and Windermere, two of its Cumbria shops.

The firm, which has 16 stores in Lancashire as well as outlets in Yorkshire and Cheshire, said it was responding to customer feedback.

“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 company said.

Speaking to BBC Radio Lancashire, Booths managing director Nigel Murray, said: “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,” he added.

“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.”

Mr Murray added: “We are a business that prides ourselves on the high standards and high levels of warm, personal care.

“We like to talk to people and we’re really proud that we’re moving largely to a place where our customers are served by people, by human beings, so rather than artificial intelligence, we’re going for actual intelligence.”

The company, which has been described as a northern Waitrose, said its philosophy since 1847 is to “sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, staffed with first class assistants”.

“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 firm added.

One customer posted on social media that it was a “terrible decision”, adding: “That’s why you now spend time queueing and waiting.”

However, Sue from Leyland, told BBC Radio Lancashire: “I think shopping is a boring, mundane thing to do and I think if staff are there chatting to you, it just makes it better.”

The self-service till began to become popular in the 1990s

The origin of the self-service checkout began with the invention of the automated teller machine in 1967.

A few decades later, the self-service till was invented by David R Humble, inspired by standing in a long grocery checkout line in south Florida in 1984.

The tills became popular in the 1990s and by 2013, there were over 200,000 in stores throughout the world and their numbers hit 325,000 by 2021.

But many shoppers remain unconvinced, with one petition calling on Tesco to “stop the replacement of people by machines”, gaining almost 250,000 signatures.

Pat McCarthy, who started the petition, previously told the BBC she wanted more cashiers on tills because “you can’t speak to a machine”.

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