Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Self-service in supermarkets means help yourself – to the tune of £3 billion a year

Or just steal it?

Just over three years since I posted about self-scanning, self-service tills, and the opportunities for theft.

The figures just published show that shoplifters are stealing £3billion a year using self-service!

One in four people actually admit to stealing almost £25-worth each month so you wonder about the actual numbers. The level of stealing has doubled in the last four years equivalent to £5 per person in Britain per month usually vegetables, toiletries and dairy products. Northerners  and Scots steal almost twice as much as Southerners

Some of the losses are attributed to faulty equipment which doesn’t scan or register items properly but 40% of the shoplifters said they knew they could get away with it.

With 50,000 machines – 12,000 in Tesco alone – the potential for theft is enormous. And who pays for it? Well honest customers do as prices are adjusted to allow for theft.

The company which carried out the survey said “ Supermarkets need to increase the number of staff who monitor the self-scan check-outs even though the point of these is to reduce the need for staff“.

Call me a Luddite but I prefer to actually pay at a till with some human interaction. All these cost-saving attempts at raising  productivity have loopholes that people will exploit.


Tesco – Scan as you shop. Soon you won’t have staff on checkouts

SCAN0116My local Tesco has introduced a new way of serving customers today. It’s called Scan as you Shop.

P1020522Basically after registering your club card you pick up a hand-held scanner and do your shopping.

You pick your items, scan them and put them straight into your own bags in your trolley. Then when you’ve finished shopping you pay at the checkouts and you’re done.

Any snags?

  • Well you need to be a club card holder so that will add you to their marketing database.
  • Some products aren’t going to scan so you have to get a customer service assistant to help you at the end of your shop
  • Items with security tags ditto

Any other problems? Well although stores generally won’t admit it it’s generally believed that there is more stolen through using self-serve checkouts (1 in 5 customers according to one source). This idea opens up even more opportunities for people to put items in their bag without paying for it.

In the instruction leaflet you can see that the first point they make is that you have to scan every item – to ensure an accurate till receipt. Of course that’s why they are telling you to do it.  Don’t honest people i.e. most of us, understand that you have to scan everything you’re  buying?

Then see the point about what they euphemistically call “service checks“. The leaflet explains that sometimes you will be randomly chosen to have some items re-scanned, maybe the whole trolley “to make sure they have all been scanned  successfully“. Of course that’s the reason, and they haven’t been watching you on CCTV?ScanTesco

I admit I’m a Luddite when it comes to customer service. I like to have an interaction with a human being which is why I don’t use internet banking (part from its security flaws).

I‘ve posted on this before when they introduced the self-service checkouts and I still won’t use them.

I’ve complained several times to Tesco managers about the shutting of checkout lanes at peak times and all they say is that the shifts have finished and they’re doing the best they can.  Well who organises the shift rosters if not the managers? Have they heard of twilight shifts?

A checkout assistant recently told me that although she was on a permanent contract all new staff were on zero hours contracts and if they refused two offers of work they were out. How can that attitude encourage staff to give of their best and provide a good customer service?

Tesco is losing market share, its customer service is getting worse (in store and on-line), and introducing  more machines for shoppers to contend with is not the answer.

When Tesco tried to expand into the American market with Fresh & Easy my understanding is that it relied heavily on checkout machines. See where that got them, they lost a fortune (£1.2 Billion) before pulling out.

In USA today a year ago, reporting that decision, it was said that: “To adapt to changing U.K. tastes, Tesco, which started trading in 1924, is trying to create a better shopping experience: Staff will be more attentive, shelves better stocked and bigger stores will have space for customers to sit down and have a coffee or family-friendly restaurants”. The idea is to have customers enjoy their visits more and stay longer. The store is trying to re-engage with its customers, and do what Shore Capital’s Black described as a “lot more that makes it softer and warmer and friendlier.

I don’t see any evidence of that and certainly not with this latest gimmick.

As Edmund Burke, a British philosopher, once said “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.“.

Tesco needs you to spend more but do they value their customers?

Tesco sloganTesco hasn’t been doing so well of late. CEO Philip Clarke hasn’t delivered on his promises and their overseas ventures in the USA and China aren’t doing much either.

According to the financial pages pressure is mounting on both the Chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, and the CEO.

Britain’s leading store is losing out to what the trade calls the “discounters” i.e. German firms Aldi and Lidl.

Now Sainsbury’s is relaunching the Danish brand Netto (which sold its stores to ASDA some years ago when it found it couldn’t compete with the Big 4 – how times have changed) to add to the pressures.

For me it’s about a decline in customer service as much as the prices (although so-called bargains aren’t all they seem to be especially when buying multi-packs).

Going into my local Tesco extra the other day to buy a handful of items I found that both “basket” tills (used to be the fewer than 10 items tills) were unstaffed, yet again. For the past 12 months or so only one has been open anyway and I’ve complained about that several times, clearly to no avail. On this occasion I was told that they were always closed at 8.00 pm.

The supervisors say they are short-staffed but that I can use the self-service machines, which I detest (and I know I’m a Luddite when it comes to them but it’s costing jobs and the staff don’t see it).

Today I went int M&S and as usual on Sunday they had two regular checkouts and one member of staff on the basket tills. Seeing that the people in front had only a few items we joined that queue only for the machine to freeze. They had to move the customer to another till, boot up the system and start again. A second member of staff came to open a second till and when I mentioned the long wait she said they were short-staffed.

Then I went into fast-growing discount store B&M (which bought the old Focus DIY store and since 2013 has had ex-Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy on the board). It was really busy but to get the queues down and customers served quickly they put a packer at each till and the people moved through very quickly.

The stores want our business (and how I dislike that Tesco slogan about shopping to save) but aren’t prepared to put enough staff on to make us want to go back more often.

1 Comment

Be a Luddite & save jobs!

I hate those self-service scanning machines in supermarkets. Tesco has long given up on the “two in a queue” customer service philosophy and now tries to persuade customers to use the self-service machines.

From what I’ve seen these are tedious to use with various menus to search through, don’t always work, and require staff on standby to help – and presumably deter theft.

The theft deterrence obviously doesn’t work as 7% of shoppers admit stealing when using self-service machines.

So you don’t have to be a celebrity to steal – like chef AWT. But celebs have always been partial to the odd freebie. Richard Madeley of “Richard & Judy” fame was once charged with shop-lifting champagne at Tesco’s but was acquitted after claiming memory loss. Not sure what AWT is claiming after being caught on camera five times and receiving a police caution but he says he’s seeking therapy, so that’s alright.

But back to the self-service machines. When ever I am asked to use them by a member of staff I refuse and ask them if they realise they are doing themselves out of jobs.

It’s the same in the banks. Don’t staff realise that every time we are asked to pay in by machine their job is put at risk?

And I realise I run the risk of being accused of being a Luddite but I prefer to be served by a person. Machines do not give you customer service.

From Bombay to Burnley

Santander recently announced that the call centres set up in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) by building societies, which are now part of Santander, were all closed down on July 1 and since then all their call centres have been in the UK, in Glasgow, Leicester, and Liverpool.

This is in response to Santander consistently being rated the worst bank for customer service. It is now ranked second worst after Barclays (which still has one call centre in India).

Indian call centres are a source of frustration to UK callers. Sometimes you can’t understand the accent and their adoption of English names, presumably to make you believe you are speaking to someone in England, is farcical. Also as problems have become more complex scripted responses don’t work so well.

The reasons for returning to the UK may not be totally altruistic as labour turnover has increased amongst the graduates who work in Indian call centres and wage costs have risen. Competition from the Philippines has also reduced India’s market share which has grown significantly in recent years.

Santander weren’t the first to make this decision. A lancashire telecom company, New Call Telecom, earlier announced that they were setting up a call centre in Burnley rather than in Mumbai. They said that staff in lancashire were hard-working and loyal and customers preferred dealing with people in this country.

Some banks such as the RBS, including NatWest, have always had UK call centres. NatWest however seems determined to force people to use automatic paying-in machines. The branch in Burnley closed down two cashier positions over a weekend earlier this year and rebuilt the wall so you couldn’t tell they were ever there.

This means the queues are getting even longer yet they have staff walking around asking if you want to pay in automatically despite customer complaints that they want to deal with a person. And how annoying is it when, after you have actually got a cashier to deal with your task, they ask if there is anything else they can do for you?

I’ve suggested they might wash my car or carry my shopping but to no avail. Now if I said I wanted to buy an insurance policy or see a financial advisor I bet I’d get a cup of coffee!

And I found out today that Santander only does business banking with automatic paying-in. So give them credit for the call centres but not for their automation – which means fewer jobs in the long run.