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I can’t remember when self-service checkouts began to become common in UK supermarkets but I’ve tended to eschew them. Why would I want to operate the checkout and pack my bags when I could choose to support the employment of a member of staff. Then Lidl, my nearest supermarket, introduced self-checkouts in their local branch and suddenly I found myself using them most of the time. Tonight I popped into a nearby Tesco to pick up a couple of things I couldn’t get in Lidl and reflected on why I still didn’t feel drawn to the self checkouts there.

With Lidl it is partly that they operate a just-after-time model of till management. I think somebody is watching and, when queues start to build, they declare another checkout open… eventually sending a member of staff to operate it! At quiet times, which is often when I pop in, there might not be any tills operating and so the self-checkouts look like a good option for getting through quickly. I often have fewer items – a basketful that will fit in a couple of bags rather than a trolley that needs three or four bags worth of shopping. Finally, they only have a small number of self-checkouts (3 card only, 3 card or cash in my local branch) which are quite closely managed.

I think that the small scale, both of what I typically buy and the number of stations, is what has caused my brain to make a switch. It feels less like I’m doing someone out of a job in Lidl because they already run on a low but more dynamic staffing model.

Stepping back from the particular subject, it is interesting to see how just changing a couple of variables can lead to quite a different reaction.