Self-Service: Unexpected Item in Bagging Area

This week saw my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  And, in keeping with my inimitable skill for finding the best gifts in a haze of panic-buying, I found myself in Tesco an hour before her party; roaming the aisles, desperately seeking ‘the perfect gift’.  Fast forward 15 minutes and I was heading toward the checkout.

There’s something quite extraordinary about the moment when I arrive at the tills.  I morph into a sniper – stealthily surveying the scene before me…trying to filter the mass of information bombarding my brain rapidly, in order to make a decision.  Where to go?  There’s only a split second to decide which aisle; after which I have to live…or die, with the consequences.  There’s a pressure, an urgent desperation… which checkout to choose and what if I pick the wrong one?

Have I got less than ten items?  Yes I do.   So, it’s the basket aisle, surely!  Nope, I’m a victim of premature relief – there’s someone standing there with 2 turnips, a box of Fixadent and a moneybag full of copper coins…  it’ll take too long.  Next option?  There’s a woman with an entire trolley-full of shopping on the conveyer belt waiting to be scanned or a smallish queue at the self-serve checkout.  Which one?  I plump for the self-serve.

Next dilemma – three aisles of self-serve checkouts and only one queue…immediately putting me in mind of the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge where traffic from 20 toll booths suddenly merges through chaos into 3 lanes.  We’re stood single-file, wrapped around the clothing section.  When our time comes, we are to fan out to one of the three aisles.  We resemble meerkats; stood to attention, head twitching and turning – making sure that interlopers don’t bypass the queue and make a crafty entry to one of the checkouts.

Surveying my competition, I realise I’ve made the wrong choice.  People who hadn’t even parked their car outside by the time I started queuing, are now being served at the basket and conveyer belt aisles!  Meanwhile, at the self-serve checkouts, the solitary checkout helper (stoically limping with her arthritic hip) is trying to weave between tills, armed with a magic store card that brings freedom to customers.  Every two seconds a light tells her she’s needed – security tagged DVD, bottle of wine, fondue set and a cuddly toy… then blu tack.  A conversation starts in the queue about the absurdity of having a minimum age requirement for such an innocuous item as blu tack.  A primary school teacher points out it has a similar function to glue and earnestly suggests it could be considered a gateway into to Class 3 narcotic use.

Nearly everyone has an unexpected item in their baggage area, or otherwise not enough items in their baggage area.  I overhear poor solitary checkout lady tell a customer that this job has done more for her weight loss than the Cabbage Soup diet did in the 70’s.  A woman chatting on her mobile phone is trying swiping her I ♥ Benidorm key ring, confused as to why she’s not getting any points… rumours flood the queue that she has also absentmindedly pulled out her kidney donor card to pay.

Finally I get to a checkout.  Result!  I have to call over poor checkout lady twice.  Once because I need my age authorised (lest I brandish my newly purchased bonsai tree as a weapon) and secondly for a bag… for which I have to part with 5p.  Five minutes later, I’m out the other end.  I’m exhausted, ready for a valium and a lie down.

Recovering in the car on the way home, my thoughts drift to holidays and the valuable self-serve lesson Tesco could have learned if only they’d taken the time to observe any Brit asked to retrieve their own continental breakfast on a half-board holiday to Majorca.  While the Germans like logistical whippets, return to their tables at lightning speed with plates stacked with magnificent food structures that simply resonate ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’; the Brits are mulling around the butter discussing whether it can be trusted.  Twenty minutes later, they’ll wander back to their seats with two bowls of dry muesli (because that milk looks “suspect”, like it could be from a goat) and a floppy slice of bread (because they couldn’t figure out how to use that damn toasting machine).

So, what’s the moral of the story?  Well, apart from keeping your kids away from blu tack and taking your own milk on holiday, there are several.  Primarily, however, it is an interesting reflection on our perverseness as consumers.

There is no doubt we have an increasing and overwhelming desire to do everything quicker, faster and easier.  Companies introduce ways and means to meet those demands; yet we’re still not happy.  Possibly because our tolerance levels have plummeted in line with our anticipated waiting times… and even then we still demand that it’s quicker, faster and easier.

As consumers pushing for speedier service, have we actually accomplished the opposite… and painted ourselves into a corner in the room of frustration?

9 Responses to “Self-Service: Unexpected Item in Bagging Area”

  1. Ange

    I wonder whether there is a correlation between Tesco’s recently reduced profits and their obsession of encouraging (usually with menaces) customers to use their self-serve checkouts?

    Having had a similar experience while trying to feed 100 of my colleagues last week, I discovered that plastic knives are also a “dangerous” item…..something that I came very close to testing when the member of staff on the self-serve checkouts looked me up and down before loudly confirming that I was obviously over 25….

  2. Shaps

    Another witty observation EJH
    I actually did “lol” at the blu tac reference!

    Self service bleep fests are fine is you have 2 or 3 items, otherwise they’re torture, yet their cost savings mean they are here to stay!

    Looking forward to next Friday already ☺

  3. The Happy Shopper

    Oh this is so true to life. I am sure that these supermarkets have their ‘daily huddle’ meetings and decide which shoppers to target today, which ones shall we really irritate and make shopping oh so difficult. How we return to those same shops week after week is beyond me. Its because we are creatures of habit, staying with the same shops because it is easier than challenging those who make our very busy lives even more stressful. Why not order your groceries via the internet? Because half the order doesn’t turn up (especially on a Christmas time). Whoever heard of them running out of Quality street and substitute it for black pudding? How many tins did you seen on the shelves-hundreds and yet they still run out?

  4. The Happy Shopper

    PS I am thoroughly enjoying your blogs-very well written and very humorous

  5. The Sword

    Like so many things these days the self service checkout has the ability to draw you in with promises it can rarely fulfil. 
    “Unexpected item in the bagging area”, is always the first telling off I get, because I had the foresight to bring my own bag to do my shopping in. Followed by “please put the item in the bagging area”, because the birthday card I chose is too light to register. Then in frustration I find myself whacking the rest of my items down onto the scale to make sure, “you WILL register my goods!!!”. And then I spend half my time worrying that security will arrest me as I leave the store for selecting the wrong type of bread roll. 
    But I carry on using them regardless because of those rare occasions where it all works perfectly, where man an machine are one. Ahhhh.

    Another engaging and hilarious blog post EJH, more please ☺.

  6. Nathanman

    Splendid! No-one and I mean no-one is an expert in lane traffic. I learnt long ago that it’s best to stay put and suffer any potential consequences. The best thing about the self serve lane is that I have got to know most of the self serve staff on quite an intimate basis that used to be reserved for the fag-counter lady alone.

  7. dw

    So true, so true. I find myself answering the machine when it asks if I have swiped my reward card, but then I try to beat it by inserting my debit card before the machine tells me to, but I get really cross when it beats me to it and it sounds like an clip out of Fawlty Towers when I snap ‘I’m doing it, I’m doing it!’. Fantastic EJH, you brighten my day!

  8. Hoots

    Us Brits rush everything. That’s why a lot of us are moody, miserable people. What ever happened to personal service. There is so much pressure to funnel people as quickly through as possible. Next please next please next please. We are our own worst enimies. 😉


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