Belfast Telegraph

How self-service tills really make sure that every customer pays

By Robert McNeil

If it weren't for visits to the supermarkets, I'd have no social life at all.

They're the closest I get to a discotheque, with the beat music — or “muzak” as the cognoscenti call it — frequently urging one to dance down the aisles.

Not willing to be escorted from the premises again, I try to control myself now — “Be still, my dancing feet!” — and just appreciate the music.

Sometimes, it's quite melancholy, in the way of much modern pop, and I find myself in floods of tears over by the potatoes.

The other great thing about supermarkets is that you can talk to the people on the tills.

They're always friendly, at least for the first 15 minutes, and I enjoy these exchanges, which give me a chance to expostulate on a variety of subjects, from the hours of amusement to be had from an old clock to the best way of peeling a turnip while inebriated.

Working from home as I do, one welcomes these opportunities for conversation with people who must enjoy such diversions from their busy lives.

Interestingly, of late I have noticed the postman running off rapidly as soon as he has put my mail through the box, and so I may have to install an electric gate at the bottom of the garden path, as he has started to miss some interesting news from my end, as it were.

Supermarkets sell such a wide variety of goods now that, often, you set off to buy toothpaste and come home with a horse.

Of course, you can always return goods, which again can result in many more hours of pleasurable conversation with the people on the information desk.

“Do you have a receipt for the horse, sir?”

“What horse?”

“The one behind you. The one you are trying to return.”

“Oh, that horse. No, no receipt. The horse ate it. Anyway, as I was saying about turnips ”

For a socialite and interesting conversationalist like me, therefore, the advent of self-service tills is ominous.

This week, unions claimed frustration with the tills is causing customers to go doolally and start abusing staff.

I've tried self-service a few times and find the whole business distressing.

As soon as you lay down your basket, an electronic voice starts accusing you of bunging unauthorised items into the danger area. It advises: “Put your hands up against the wall, spread your legs and do not attempt any sudden movements.”

There's no reasoning with them, and they can't cope with booze, presumably because they can't tell if you're over 18, even when you're trying to put through 10 packets of Werther's Originals, a bottle of own-brand sherry, and a year's supply of incontinence pads.

Inevitably, an assistant comes to help, but they've rarely time to talk. I've started to have nightmares about it all.

I drop a turnip to the floor and, bending down to pick it up, my bottom blows a raspberry, prompting the machine to go nuts: “Unauthorised rude noise in the packing area! Alert security! Alert!”

Daleks appear and all the while, the tannoy is blasting out Beyonce.

It's awful. I'm not sure I want to go back to supermarkets now. Not if I can't have a little shimmy down the aisle or a proper conversation.

Belfast Telegraph

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