Self service or ‘manned’ checkout sir/madam?

A recent newspaper report, apparently, suggests that the British public dislike the self-service checkouts that have now appeared in virtually all of the big 4’s stores. However, the supermarkets seem hellbent of introducing more and more of these things, despite this sort of feedback and the distrust of their own staff, who see this as yet another way for the management to cut jobs.

Just like extending Sunday trading hours, out of town supermarkets and just about all the other retrograde steps the supermarkets have managed to impose upon us, the supermarkets are quick to tell us, ‘it’s what the public tell us they want’.

In the case of self service checkouts, our local Sainsbury’s is ensuring that customer behaviour supports the company view, by manipulating checkout provision in the store, how? Location, location, location, as the estate agents say.

When I visited the store this afternoon, there were only 4 manned checkouts open, so of course lots of people were using the self service checkouts. However, in order to make doubly sure customers gravitated towards self service, 3 of the 4 mannered checkouts, we’re at the far end of the checkout row, thereby ensuring that people went for the closer option.

Supermarkets are true masters of behaviour manipulation when it comes to making the public perform in the way they want us to, by product location, use of music and in some cases, clever lighting. This seems to be yet another example of this cynical behaviour.

Sainsbury’s Justin King – It’s not fair, it’s not our fault!

The top dog at Sainsbury claims that high street shops have brought about their own demise and that it is nothing to do with the supermarkets he and his mates in the business have infested our towns and cities with. Is he just been funny or bullish, or does he really believe what he’s saying?

It might of been just possible to see the supermarkets as mounting fair competition to other food stuff providers when they were of a town centre scale and location. However, as soon as they decided to seek green field sites, away from centres of population, followed by selling an ever increasing range of non-food goods, it was no longer the case. The purchasing muscle deployed by supermarkets, combined with a ruthless and cut throat approach to pricing from their suppliers, means that the small independent retailer, of the standard fare, has no hope of competing.

If Mr King really believes that town centre shops are not falling victim to his brand of business, then he, along with all the other supermarket bosses, should be doing something to support and
encourage them, instead of trampling them under foot. Nor should he suggest that they can afford to run loyalty schemes, ala Nectar points, that will cut even further in to already threadbare profit margins.

Why don’t the supermarkets set up an investment fund that buys up blocks of town centre shops in areas that are struggling. They could then offer these premises to startup businesses that were either non-existent, or poorly represented in that high street, at a peppercorn rent. Only when the numbers started to add up, would the rent begin to increase and then at a very modest rate. Taxpayers would also do their bit by giving business rates relief for the same period. Even if the shop never became particularly profitable, as long it was providing a valuable service and adding colour and variety to its town centre, it would be supported. A pipe dream I know and something the voracious share holders of the big 4 would probably never wear, but one
Iives in hope.