Dear Woolworths

Stop trying to make me use your crappy “self serve” checkouts.

I noticed you installed them a few months back. A few weeks ago, out of curiousity, I tried it.

It was just that: a curiousity. My experience went as follows:

  1. I was reminded of my first job as a checkout operator, which I utterly detested. It was with your company, actually, at the Big W in Darwin. Your managers there were incompetent and mean-spirited. I guess they got promoted to head office. I do not see doing a job I hate for free as progress.
  2. I am out of practice. A normal checkout operator is much faster and has a good idea of efficiently packing the bags.
  3. You still needed someone to verify my credit card signature. This took longer than it would at a normal checkout. No, I will not use a credit card PIN. I happen to like the additional legal protection the signature gives me.

So basically you want me to provide free labour, waste more of my own time and get crappy service from a grumpy curmudgeon (me). No bloody thanks.

It’s obvious you’re really keen on these machines. Today you closed the express checkouts so that I would either have to queue up with the trolleys or go through your stupid, rubbish, useless, dodgy, crappy, dumb, time-wasting, moronic, transparently grasping self-serve aisles. I chose to queue with the trolleys.

I noticed today that your competitors at Coles haven’t installed these machines. Indeed their express checkouts were fully staffed. And so, from now on, I will refuse to purchase my groceries at Woolies. I will be buying my petrol at Shell. I will be avoiding Dan Murphy’s and Dick Smith.

You, the Board and Executives of Woolworths, are a pack of wankers. I hope to see you resigning or being sacked with no bonuses. Thereafter I will look forward to the news that you are all rotting in a special hell where you are required to torture yourselves.

Yours Sincerely,

An ex-customer.

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11 Responses to Dear Woolworths

  1. duncanriley says:

    This will be one of the few times I disagree with you.

    I love the self-checkouts, and I wish they had rolled them out at all outlets.

    The biggest consideration is waiting time. On pure economics, there is a cost for waiting to be served. Whether its good or bad, try waiting at a typical non-self serve Woolworths. I know the outlet nearest to me (Balwyn) doesn’t yet have self checkout, an the 10 items or less isle takes at least 10 minutes, if not sometimes 20 minutes to get through.

    I’d rather self check out every time.

    Once you’ve done it once or twice it’s actually rather easy. But more importantly, it’s always way quicker.

    On an economic basis, balance the time waited for hands on service vs self check out. Sure, you don’t get the service, but I know by experience that I save more by doing it myself vs waiting; time and time again. And really, it’s not that hard…honest.

    Give it 6 times, and split your time between full service and self service…you will come around.

  2. Jacques Chester says:

    Well it used to be they had 3 checkout stations at the express checkout. Generally I could get in and out in minutes.

    Now they’ve replaced them with 4 machines. Each customer takes longer per machine; partly because they suck, partly because trolley-drivers use them too.

    So which is quicker? 3 highly efficient people or 4 sucky machines?

    Which would you prefer for your website? 4 crappy servers serving inconsistently sized requests at random, or 3 fast servers with consistently sized jobs behind a round-robin load balancer?

  3. James Farrell says:

    My one experiment was similar. I couldn’t get the machine to read my credit card, and had to wait about five minutes for someone to help. Then she went away, and I waited another five minutes for someone to take my signature.

    But that’s just Woolworths’ exercise of liberty, isn’t it, Jacques? Are you turning into some sort of communist?

  4. Jacques Chester says:


    Did you see any mention of regulation or legislation in my original rant? Because I didn’t.

    Woolworths exercised their liberty to introduce a damn fool system, and I am exercising my liberty to bitch about it and spend money with their competitors.

  5. doctorpat says:

    I vastly prefer the self serve system. AND I wondered why, because many of the points that Jacques raises are perfectly true.

    My conclusions:

    1. Spending time doing something is vastly preferable to spending time waiting for someone else.
    2. For someone who has never used a scanner before, it is a new skill. And acquiring a new skill is vastly more interesting than standing around waiting for somebody else.
    3. Because the machines are cheaper than the checkout chicks, all the stores I frequent eventually ended up replacing 4 checkout chicks with 8 or 10 self serve counters. And that speeds things up.
    4. After a month or two, customers learn how to use them, and they speed up. Not to the level of the full time staff, but fast enough so that the queue moves faster than before.
    5. Those customers who hate the machines self select out of using them, leaving the faster, shorter queue for me.

    I do have one objection to the machines that Jacques missed. There is only a small area to put your scanned goods in. And if you don’t balance everything in the designated place, the machine sulks and won’t process further scans.

    Also, could you elaborate on your objection to the PIN instead of signing? How does you not using the PIN stop a thief from using it?

  6. Pedro X says:

    On point 3. A signature is easier to get around than a PIN. You won’t guess my pin, but you could probably forge my signature fairly easily. To get some idea of how badly they are checked I wrote below my signature (please check ID) on my card. It took 9 months before anyone actually asked to check ID. i.e. people just ignore the signature.

    If you do use a PIN then the whole process avoids interaction with staff and is considerably quicker.

    The reduced waiting time is a huge bonus with self-checkout, even for people who don’t use it. At many, perhaps most supermarkets only a small proportion of the checkouts are staffed much of the time while self-checkout means that one person can run 6 check outs for when the demand ups.

  7. Richard Green says:

    I also vastly prefer the self check out, but that may be because I don’t buy anything from woolworths except milk, peanut butter and kangaroo meat. Everything else I can buy cheaper at the butcher’s/greengrocer’s etc.

    Subsequently, I only ever have 3 items top, and my average payment is $3 and change (usually just milk).

    And scanning 2 items and putting coins in the machine is quicker than standing in line behind someone who considers a trolley full to be expressworthy. I can’t imagine buying enough at the supermaket to need the card, or the need to use credit over EFTPOS, unless your bank doesn’t allow free EFTPOS transactions.

    Doctorpat – Recently we have the option to use PIN for Credit card rather than just debit EFTPOS transactions, but only if we choose to enable it. Whilst a thief could still steal Jacques card and use a PIN to steal the money in his account, they could not use a PIN to run him into debt, because he hasn’t allowed one to be created.

  8. Pedro X says:

    It might be worth noting that PINs on credit cards are to be compulsory in Australia, I think by 2012.

    Which is a bit of a moot point given that a large proportion of card fraud is now online.

  9. Patrick says:

    I too love the self-serve. I have pins on all my cards now, partly motivated by this.

    In the US they went one better and you used your loyalty card to pick up a scanner at the entry (plus some bags), scanned your items as you shopped and then used your loyalty card to download your bill to the self-serve checkout, paid and left.

    Awesome, with double-plus-bonus of maximum children satisfaction :)

  10. James A says:

    The UK (and possibly Europe?) is almost entirely Chip+PIN and has been for a while, Australia will be that way soon enough. Pedro: online you often get asked for the billing address and CSC. They’re also pushing Verified by Visa and the MasterCard equivalent, which are both pretty shit from a user experience point of view but get the job of preventing purchases with just a card number done.

    Coles has installed self-checkouts in the Northbridge store and will probably roll it out to the rest of their stores soon enough.

  11. Tel_ says:

    I use them, typically when I’m only buying a handful of items (normal for me) and my main logic in choosing to use them is that not many other people use them so I get out the door quicker without waiting in queue. As far as I can remember I have always been able to walk straight up to a self-serve checkout.

    Yes I do use a PIN, yes it’s a bit weak but I never use credit cards and I check the transaction record reasonably often. I doubt I will live long enough to get value from the signature vs PIN security debate.

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