Coles and Woolworths shoppers call out stores over self-serve trend: 'Absolutely disgusting'

The supermarket giants are under fire as customers speak out about their stressful experiences at self-serve checkouts.

It's a scene familiar to many Aussie shoppers. You've got a trolley full of groceries but as you head to the exit ready to pay you find there are very few registers open and you're forced to choose between standing in a long line and heading to the self-serve checkouts.

This frustrating trend has seen shoppers hit out at Coles and Woolworths online calling for more staffed registers to be provided in stores.

While useful for shoppers buying only a handful of items, Aussies are increasingly annoyed at the lack of tills with employees available to help with packing their purchases, leaving only self-serve and express checkouts open.

One Coles customer said in a Facebook post he was recently forced to scan $250 worth of groceries through the self-serve checkout at the retailer’s Forster store on NSW’s Mid North Coast. “Where life’s a holiday 24/7,” he headlined the post.

Commenters sympathised with the shopper, with one saying, "That's absolutely disgusting, I would of just walked out".

A Coles shopfront is pictured left, and right shows the front of a Woolworths store.
Coles and Woolworths customers have expressed frustration over a lack of staffed registers. Source: Getty

Woolworths did not escape criticism either, with another shopper complaining online there were not nearly enough registers open for the amount of customers in the store at Roselands in Sydney’s south recently. “I tried to say something to one of your team members at the service desk, but no apology (was) offered,” he added.

In a direct reply to that social media post, which attracted 1,500 comments, a Woolworths spokesperson said, “This doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience at all”, adding they had raised the issue with the store manager and hoped the customers had a better in-store visit next time.

Many in the comments backed up the man's words, saying there were often one or two registers open at their store and long lines of customers waiting to be served.

Customers say they are pushed into using self-serve checkouts

A lot of shoppers argued that the store was pushing them to use the self-serve checkouts. "Cutting back checkouts for more self-serve stations!! I’m sorry but if you have a full trolley it’s too awkward," one said.

A Coles spokesperson said it “actively encouraged and trained” employees to assist customers who may need additional help. This included shoppers with prams, young children or the elderly.

“A team member will always be available in the service area to help any customer who would like help with their shopping,” the spokesperson added.

While staff may be circling through the checkouts, customers at both supermarkets have repeatedly expressed difficulties in accessing help when grappling with a trolley and multiple shopping bags.

Echoing the thoughts of many, one shopper said, “I don’t mind self-service for basket items but when you have a trolley, that isn’t good. In my Woolies, there isn’t enough room to put the trolley and put all your groceries on their tiny shelf. Yet no checkouts are open and (it) makes your shop more stressful.”

However, another stated they go to the service desk and request staff open a checkout register if there aren’t any available. “The extra stress when the machines have a moment isn’t worth it,” she added.

Left: A Coles customer filling a plastic shopping bag at a self-serve register. Right: A staff member patrols the Woolworths self-serve area.
While self-serve registers are easy options for those with a small number of items, they are not convenient if you've done a large shop. Source: Getty

Woolworths will continue to provide staffed registers

A Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia staffed checkouts were “always” an option at its stores.

“We want customers to have a choice at the checkout,” they said. “We know some customers prefer to be served by a team member and that’s why there is always that option in all of our stores.

“We find that many of our customers prefer the self-serve checkouts, particularly when they are buying a handful of items.

“However, we understand that some customers still look to use our manned checkouts and we will continue to provide this service at all our stores across the country.”

A supermarket register with the sign
Supermarkets have been accused of keeping registers closed, leaving customers struggling with a trolley-load of groceries. Source: Getty

Self-serve checkouts 'crucial' at busy retailers

Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association, said while self-service checkouts had become more popular, supermarkets were employing more staff than ever to cater for different needs and traditional cash registers were still options at most retailers.

He said the number of self-serve checkouts compared to traditional cash registers varied between stores and were tailored to the needs of customers, while there were now other options such as online shopping, rapid grocery delivery and Direct to Boot.

"While some customers prefer to be served by a team member, self-serve checkouts have a range of benefits. They contribute to faster transaction processing, allowing retailers to serve more customers during peak hours," Zahra told Yahoo.

"This efficiency is crucial in meeting the demands of a busy retail environment, and improving overall operational productivity. Self-serve checkouts can also make shoppers more comfortable if they’re purchasing a personal item or simply don’t feel like socialising," he added.

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