UK supermarket Booths to scrap most self-service tills

LONDON (Reuters) – Northern England supermarket chain Booths is to axe almost all of the self-service tills in its stores, saying the decision was in response to feedback from customers.

The shift is the first by a UK grocer of a significant size, bucking a trend that has seen all of the major players, including market leader Tesco and No. 2 Sainsbury’s, open thousands of self-checkouts and dramatically reduce the amount of staffed checkouts.

Booths, an upmarket supermarket chain, said it believed staff serving customers delivered a better customer experience and had therefore taken the decision to remove self-checkouts from all but two of its 28 stores.

Nigel Murray, managing director of Booths, told BBC Radio Lancashire that customers had told the firm that its self-scan machines can be slow and were unreliable and impersonal.

“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,” he said.

Tesco, which has over 27% share of the UK grocery market, introduced self-service checkouts more than two decades ago.

Over the last year it has added trolley self-checkouts to existing basket self-checkout areas to enable customers to process bigger purchases.

Tesco CEO Ken Murphy told investors at its last annual general meeting that self-service tills had over time proved a “very popular” method of payment for customers.

“This is not by the way designed to replace people, quite the opposite … There is always in every shop a cash-manned checkout alternative, but we genuinely believe that at the end of the day it provides a better customer experience.”

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Paul Simao)