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Tesco self checkout

Self-checkouts are supposed to make shopping easier. But not when the machine orders you to “Please place the item in the bag” – after you’ve already put your item in the bag. Or it shouts “Unknown item in bagging area”, as though you’ve committed some kind of crime. And worst of all – “Please wait for attendant”. If you wanted to wait for an attendant, you wouldn’t have gone to self-checkout in the first place!

It’s enough to make you want to take out your frustrations on the machine itself. And some people have, such as the Walmart shopper who was cited for punching a self-checkout machine last year.

But now, one grocery chain is working to make the self-checkout experience slightly less maddening, by making the machines slightly less annoying.

Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, announced yesterday that it’s replacing the voices in all of its self-checkout machines, to make them “friendlier, more helpful and less talkative.”

Phrases such as the dreaded “unexpected item in the bagging area” have been banished from the machines’ vocabulary, along with no-duh instructions like “please take your items” and “please scan your coupons.” Such phrases were left over from the days when self-checkouts were new, and users may have needed step-by-step instructions.

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But now that self-checkouts are ubiquitous, shoppers are apparently tired of being bossed around. Tesco says customers have complained the machines are “shouty” and “irritating”, and that they make their checkout experience tense and unpleasant.

So the stern checkout voice has been replaced with a softer, friendlier voice, that offers suggestions and courteous reminders instead of demands – such as, “Please don’t forget your change,” “We just need to approve this” and “Has something been removed from your bag?”

You know, just like those friendly interactive voice recordings you get when you call a company, and a computer invites you to speak to it (and then chirps, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that – you can say ‘Repeat that’ or ‘Main menu’…”)

And there’s nothing at all annoying about that!

So Tesco’s new machines may turn out to be friendly, in an annoying kind of way. But maybe that’s better than being just plain annoying. Tesco is about to install the new voice in 12,000 self-checkout machines across the country, so it’s betting that annoyingly friendly is the way to go.

And for the sake of those who are prone to attack self-checkout machines – let’s hope they’re right.

Image source: Tesco

One Comment

  1. Most self check out are annoying. I always get the you have not scanned an item when it is obvious that I have scanned the item, it is always some type of problem. Please don’t even try to use a coupon, the machine goes crazy and loudly states that the coupon is not valid or it is not accepted. Also with the coupons self checkout registers don’t take coupons for free items. It takes more time going through a self checkout machine than it does just going to the register. I stopped using them, only do so if I have one or two items with no coupons. Even then still have to go and get the receipt checked by an employee of the store who sits in the are where the self checkouts are located. Thought the point of this was to bypass the cashier and get out of the store quicker. Nice concept but bad execution.

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