Booths checks out of self-service checkouts.

Upmarket grocery chain Booths has surprised the retail industry by announcing it is to remove self-service checkouts from its supermarkets at a time when other operators are installing greater numbers of the devices as they ditch manned checkouts.


The North England business is to take the technology out of 25 of its 27 stores – with the two exceptions being particularly busy outlets in tourist locations – as it has decided the focus should be on delivering a more personal service to its customers through staffed tills.


Nigel Murray, managing director of Booths, says: “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. 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.”


Although the move sets Booths apart from its competitors, who continue to install self-service checkouts to save costs and potentially speed-up service, it chimes with the disgruntled mood of many shoppers with the technology.


According to the recent Grocer 33 annual survey the customer service levels in supermarkets have fallen to a new record low and the single reason for this is the soaring levels of queues at the checkouts. The chief cause of the problem is self-service checkouts that are replacing manned checkouts. 


As much as 80% of sales go through these devices in a typical supermarket but for the 20% of shoppers who use the manned checkouts they are having an increasingly poor experience queuing at the limited number of regular tills that are now available in most supermarkets. It is also likely that a number of the users of self-service devices would prefer to return to manned tills if the queues were shorter.


Booths has become frustrated with the clunky and confusing nature of the self-service checkouts, with Murray expressing a desire to move away from this in its stores: “We stock quite a lot of loose items – fruit & 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.”


Booths is also adding more counters as part of its wider store development programme, which will see the expansion this feature to take it beyond the typical counter categories of meat, fish and cheese. This is another move in contrast to the other grocery chains who have universally removed counters from their stores over recent years. 


Despite the move by Booths the number of self-service checkouts continues to grow – in the UK and overseas. In 2013 there were 191,000 units deployed globally and by 2025 they are forecast to grow to 1.2 million, according to research from NCR.