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Customers of popular British grocery chain Booths found out this week that the company will scrap self-checkout lanes, just six years after introducing them in its 28 stores, most of which are located in the north of England.
The decision bucks a decades-long trend in which humans have become increasingly scarce in supermarkets and other large retail stores — a shift that most industry observers agree cannot be stopped.
“We’re not fans of self-checkouts,” said Nigel Murray, Booth’s managing director. He told British 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 initially seemed like an attractive way to manage labor costs and increase efficiency, Murray said. But he also noted that the technology can be complicated, which detracts from the shopping experience.
Booths was founded in Blackpool in 1847, reportedly with the philosophy of “selling the best goods available, in attractive shops, staffed by first-class assistants”.
Company spokesman He told The Guardian The company will remove the controversial aisles from every one of its stores except two in the touristy Lake District, where staff can become crowded during the warmer months.
“We believe that associates serving customers provide a better customer experience and have therefore made 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 on receiving 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 stay true to this ethos.
This news comes as other retailers have publicly revealed their own struggles with automating the checkout and checkout process – Walmart Self-checkout options have recently been removed from some of its stores without explanation, while Wegmans, a beloved Rochester-based grocer with two stores in New York City and a handful in nearby suburbs, recently ditched its popular self-checkout app, citing abuse.
“SCAN users told us they love the app and the convenience it provides,” Wegmans said in a statement to the New York Times. He added: “Unfortunately, the losses we are witnessing prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state.”
According to a 2016 study Quoted from The Gray Ladyretailers in the United States and Europe that offer self-checkout options experienced a loss rate of about 4 percent — more than double the industry average.
The trend toward automated checkouts has been partly blamed for the so-called “loneliness epidemic” said to be plaguing some Western countries, where chatting with a checkout agent may be the only human interaction some people experience in a day.
While self-checkout options were first introduced nearly twenty years ago, many businesses have relied heavily on the concept during the pandemic, when customers suddenly became eager to minimize contact with other humans.
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