Self-checkout at Tesco

Tesco Store and car park

I have never really liked the self-checkouts that have replaced many of the “10 items or less” checkout lanes in most of our supermarkets. It’s not because I am against the self-checkout technology, although I do prefer the more human approach of a human! It’s because they are fiddly.

They are fiddly because of the nature of the systems the supermarkets have put in place to ensure a level of customer honesty is maintained.

The supermarkets might say that the introduction of the self-checkout has been introduced to speed up the payment processes for the benefit of the customer, but it’s clear there must also be a significant cost-saving for the supermarket if one checkout operator can now manage eight or more checkouts.

They might also say that the self-checkout is a testament to customer honesty, but how much of this do they believe if this honesty is helped along by a weight transference system that ensures items cannot be added to the bagging area without being scanned.

unexpected item in the bagging area

Then there are some items, like Valentine Cards, that don’t weigh much and often don’t register in the bagging area. Trying to buy a card often means waiting for the Checkout Attendant to come along and confirm your honesty.

It’s February 14th and yesterday I ventured out into the big, wide world. I ventured as far as Tesco to buy Mrs PaymentMonkey a Valentine card and some Roses … and some Gin!

Tesco Logo

Tesco plc, trading as Tesco, is a British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer headquartered in Welwyn Garden City, England. It is the third-largest retailer in the world and it has shops in five countries across Europe. It is the market leader of groceries in the UK (where it has a market share of around 28.4%).

Tesco was founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen as a group of market stalls in Hackney, London. The Tesco name first appeared in 1924, after Cohen purchased a shipment of tea from T. E. Stockwell and combined those three initials with the first two letters of his surname. The first Tesco shop opened in 1931 in Burnt Oak, Barnet and his business expanded rapidly. By 1939 he had over 100 Tesco shops across the country.

Thanks to Wikipedia

Supermarket Etiquette

Its like a different world out there. Well really, its not even “like” a different world, it is a different world.

February 13th was a Saturday, but it was a Saturday in lockdown.

However, lockdown Saturday it might have been but the roads around the Harlow Retail Park were gridlocked. I needed a new brake light bulb, or I might have been trying to fulfil my Valentine obligations elsewhere.

But … even though Harlow was gridlocked but I’ve never seen Halfords so popular.

Halfords not very busy

But of course, the queues in Halfords do not explain the gridlock!

Anyway, Tesco was busy and there was a traffic light system in operation at the in-door. Having failed to enter through the out-door (by mistake as I hadn’t noticed the “no entry” signs), I took my place at the back of the queue for the in-door. I neared the door slowly, passing the time watching the red lights turn green and the green lights turn red and people sneaking in with trolleys when the red light was on but the door hadn’t closed. I had no trolley as I wasn’t here for a weekly shop; I progressed along with the queuers in the trolley queue, without a trolley.

I entered the store with mask secured behind ears and made sure that I remained, at all times, several feet from the other mask-wearing shoppers.

Inside, I availed myself of one bunch of red roses, one bunch of yellow roses and one bunch of white roses. Needless to say that the red roses, with a “Happy Valentine’s Day” message on the wrapper, were far more expensive than the yellow or white. I think maybe the yellow and white were also on special offer, but I am only saying that because of what is written on the receipt.

I found the main card isle and there were no Valentine Cards … you can imagine my disapointment.

Then I remembered that seasonal stuff was usually kept on display at the far end of the store and off I went. I wasn’t disappointed this time as I found a suitable card and some Beefeater Blood Orange Gin … and it was on special offer!

Tesco special offers on gin

Note that they’re all dispalying Clubcard Prices, which I am assuming are the prices for those customers that have a Clubcard.

In my basket, I had:

  • 15 White Roses
  • 15 Yellow Roses
  • 12 Red Roses
  • 1 bottle Beefeater Blood Orange Gin
  • 1 Card

Basket in hand, I set off towards the SACAT area.

Semi-Attended Cardholder Activated Terminal (SACAT)

You may have seen the term “sacat” or “SACAT” on your bank statement and wondered what it was. Or … you may know about payment stuff and are therefore fully aware of the term.

Semi-attended means that you are doing most of the work and the checkout operator is only needed when you are not qualified to press the next button, which is quite frequently.

I thought I would have a go at the SACAT as I wanted to use a stack of vouchers that had accumulated on my phone and I didn’t want to show my inability to work the technology to a checkout operator that might secretly be laughing at me.

My phone has a Tesco Groceries app, a Tesco Clubcard app and a Tesco Pay+ app. It also has a Tesco Clubcard loaded into the Wallet.

I headed towards the machine that was flashing its green light and displaying the message “Thank you for shopping at Tesco. Please take your items”. I figured that it would be as good as any, and probably better than any of the others that were flashing their red lights.

I put the basket down on the right-hand side and the machine responded with its greeting.

At this time in the proceedings, I wasn’t expecting any particular hardship to befall me and so I wasn’t making a point of recording what was going on … but I should have been.

The device asked me if I was going to be using my own bags and I replied yes, even though I was going to be carying the stuff out, bagless. There was no “bagless” option and this device then asked me to place my bag into the bagging area. I told it that I had done so and it didn’t acuse me of being a liar.

First Round to Me.

I scanned all the items. The Beefeater Blood Orange Gin caused the amber light to light and the device stopped. It was waiting for a semi-attendant to confirm that I was probably over the age of 18 before continuing. The semi-attendant eventually showed up and I am assuming that she thought I was over 18 as she flashed a bar code and entered a PIN and I carried on.

I took the opportunity of my interaction with the semi-attendant to say that the bottle had a security tag attached to the lid that needed to be removed. The semi-attendant told me to go back to the semi-attendants’ station once I had completed the purchase to have it removed.

Second Round to the SACAT and the Semi-attendant.

Now that I had everything scanned, it was time to Flash the Cash. On this occasion, I was trying not to use cash, I had coupons and I had a Clubcard and I had a mobile phone.

I assumed – wrongly as it happens – that the coupons would be linked to the Clubcard like in the old days so that if I tried to present a Clubcard Coupon without the Clubcard, the coupon would be rejected.

In the old days, Tesco customers could not use Clubcard coupons without first presenting their Clubcard.

In the old days, Tesco Clubcard coupons were not transferable.

I presented my coupon: the Aztec Code on my mobile phone to the scanner. The scanner returned no objection.

Tesco uses Aztec Codes as they are supposed to be better and more accurate than QR codes. I make no judgement here, but I don’t like QR Codes.

Tesco Coupon

I assumed that because the coupon had been accepted, the relationship with the Tesco Clubcard had been established. Not an unreasonable assumption to make given the previous logic … but it hadn’t.

Third Round to the SACAT and the Tesco Business Analysts.

Now it was getting interesting. I had presented the first Aztec Code coupon displayed on my mobile phone to the scanner, it was for £3.50 and it had been accepted.

Now I see this message on the SACAT display:

a self-checkout message

Hmmm! It’s asking me to insert my coupon and I don’t have a coupon.

Actually, the picture above is of the message displayed after the last Mobile Phone coupon was scanned, hence the £0.00 due. I’ll come back to that later.

The SACAT is asking me to insert my coupon here …

Insert Coupon into SACAT

… but the coupon is on my Mobile Phone and there is no way that I can tell the device that the coupon it’s just read is on a Mobile Phone, and the device is waiting patiently for the coupon to be inserted into the coupon slot.

ALSO … there are no amber or red lights flashing that might gain the attention of the semi-attendant.

Round Four and Round Five go to the SACAT and the Tesco Business Analysts.

The semi-attendants get an honourable mention as they remained completely if not intentionally oblivious to the confused customer trying to work out how to comply with the SACAT’s demands. One has to wonder how this looked on the Customer Journey documentation, and one has to wonder who signed off on such a good idea.

A geezer in a grey jacket appeared behind me, over my right shoulder, and whispered that the device needed to have something jiggled in the slot. He produced a coupon-sized card printed with a barcode and in accordance with his prediction, proceeded to jiggle it in the slot. The SACAT accepted the jiggle even though nothing was dropped into the coupon bin and relieved that its demands had been met without bloodshed, allowed me to continue. The red light around the scanner turned green and the device invited me to have another go.

I indicated to the geezer in the grey jacket that I had more coupons to coop. He stood behind me and as I cooped the coupons, and he inserted and jiggled the card as and when the SACAT demanded.

I could feel Round Six might be mine.

But no, it wasn’t to be. The Geezer in the grey jacket looked up and announced that he had a customer. He left me in mid-coupon as he headed with great haste over to the Tesco Mobile shop to part customer from cash. Now I’m left with the last coupon being read from my Mobile Phone and the scanner surrounds have turned red. There isn’t a semi-attendant in sight. I could see, as I looked around, that there were other customers, equally held in limbo as we all scoured the horizon for the semi-attendants.

I finally got one, she jiggled the jiggle card in the jiggle slot and the scanner surround turned green.

Round Six to the Tesco Staff, or “colleagues” as staff now seem to like to be called.

An honourable mention here to the Business Analysts as someone calling themselves a Business Analyst designed all of this … and more importantly, some other people calling themselves Business Analysts, after carefully reviewing the proposition, thought it to be a good idea and signed it off.

Or maybe it was the Product Owner?

Same difference.

I am now at the end of the Valentine’s Day purchase process. I have scanned my items, I have procured the help of numerous staff (collegues) from Tesco Mobile managers to the closer-to-hand semi-attendants and now I have reduced my bill to zero … a no cost Valentine’s Day. Result!

At this point, I would expect to see the “Thank you for shopping at Tesco. Please take your items and have a nice day” message.

This is what I saw:

Entire purchase cancelled

This is priceless.

I understand the meaning of all of the words when the words are presented by themselves. It’s the sentences that don’t make sense, but at least there is a picture of a carrier bag.

Round Seven to the Tesco Developers.

I am now wondering how I put all the items aside. If I pick them up and take them home, am I doing a runner? I have no clue.

The receipt doesn’t help much: it just says that I have nothing to pay.


But then I remember … the Beefeater Blood Orange Gin bottle still has a security tag secured around its neck. I pick up the Roses and the Card and the bottle of Beefeater Blood Orange Gin and head over to the semi-attendants’ work station to have it removed. The semi-attendant, aware of the fact that she had earlier confirmed my age so that I could purchase the bottle of Beefeater Blood Orange Gin, asked me for the receipt to prove that I had paid for it.

Round Eight to Tesco.

I started with promise, but I was no match.

Tesco Win!

It was all worth it

Mrs PaymentMonkey is very happy with the Card and the Roses and the Bottle of Beefeater Blood Orange Gin. They are in pride of place on the kitchen windowsill.

Roses and Gin and a Card

I think Semi-Attended Cardholder Activated Terminals, or self-checkouts, are contenders for the future shop. At the moment, however they are a pain.

Some of that pain is the result of over zealous attempts to help customers to stay honest.

Some of the pain is caused by Product Owners and Business Analysts … and Senior Managers who consider it more important to refer to staff as collegues than to treat customers as customers …

… and I speak from some experience.