Congratulations to Booths, the supermarket chain known as the "Northern Waitrose", on its "joyous decision" to rip out its self-service checkouts, said Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. By removing the machines from all but two of its 28 stores, Booths is bucking a baleful trend.
It claims that the decision is about customer service, said Claire Moses in The New York Times. "Delighting customers with our warm Northern welcome is part of our DNA," said a spokesperson. But there may be another reason. One study showed that, at stores with self-service tills, shoplifting increases to more than double the industry average: the machines make theft less detectable, and "tempt shoppers to act in ways they normally would not".
'Digital advances have come a little unstuck'
Whatever the reason, it's a blessed relief, said Emily Watkins in The i Paper. For a "supposedly time-saving innovation", automated checkouts certainly waste a lot of time, what with selecting and weighing loose produce, summoning staff to verify your age for booze purchases – and, of course, removing unexpected items from the bagging area.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
There are many areas of life in which "supposed digital advances have come a little unstuck", said Stefano Hatfield in the same paper – opening the door for the old ways to return. Vinyl record sales have surged; UK publishers sold a record 669 million physical books last year; some banks are pledging to maintain bricks and mortar branches; and plans to close railway ticket offices in England have just been abandoned. These are all signs of "a yearning for analogue simplicity".
'Costing more in the long run'
No wonder, said Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times. Over the past 20 years, automation has saved business and government a lot of money. My suspicion, though, is that it will end up "costing us all a lot more in the long run". Increasingly, we have to conduct business "via (fairly stupid) robots". We shop online, "so we don't even have to see other people, let alone interact with the bastards".
This changes our behaviour: just look at the "psychotic rage" you so often see on social media, which you'd never get face to face. Loss of human contact "encourages us to shed civility and inhibitions", at the supermarket till and "everywhere else".
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.