‘How it should be’: Coles photo sparks debate

Every one of these checkouts is open at Coles supermarket Belmont NSW, early 1990s.
A Coles supermarket in Belmont, NSW in the early 1990s. Picture: Facebook

A photo of a Coles supermarket from the early 1990s has sparked a tense debate about the state of self-service shopping in Australia.

The retro image was shared to the “Old Shops Australia” Facebook page and depicts the old Belmont Coles in Lake Macquarie, NSW, during a rush hour more than 30 years ago.

Lane after lane of cashier check-outs stretching across the brightly coloured shop, with staff and customers busy exchanging groceries.

However, the nostalgic photo sparked a slightly more political, rather than sentimental discussion, as commenters debated the rise of self-check-out systems.

“I really hate self-check-outs. I find them to be so badly designed in that there’s really not enough space for me to put things in an orderly manner, and I feel very rushed when I’m forced to use one,” one person commented.

“I prefer interacting with a human.”

Other page members chimed in and said they longed for a time “when customers were important”.

Supermarkets have won the check-out war. Picture: Supplied
Supermarkets have won the check-out war. Picture: Supplied

“It’s nothing but a sh*t show now,” a third commented.

“With the move to self serve express check-outs and now self serve trolley check-outs there are only minimal staffed check-outs.

“Even at peak times it’s terrible.”

Shoppers also took aim at the supermarket giants for phasing out staffed check-outs in favour of boosting profits and lowering labour costs.

“Big business CEOs will have customers packing shelves soon too. These self service check-outs are NOT about convenience as fools are led to believe, they are to boost their salaries and bonuses by cutting back on staff and services,” a commenter posted.

“How it still should be. Jobs!” replied another.

Yet despite arguments against the newer self-check-out system, former Coles workers in the comments said the old ways weren’t perfect.

“The register I was always on would never scan the stuff properly, the glass was so scratched you would be forever cleaning the glass, they were crap,” a former worker wrote.

“I worked at Coles in the late 1990s and not every checkout was opened then. Our manager was always trying to save money by having about 4 big check-outs open, and the lines would be about five trolleys deep each,” another said.

Eftpos Machine at Self Checkout
Australians are divided about whether current systems are better. Picture: Supplied.

“Lack of open check-outs suck for the checkout operators even more so than the customers.”

“I realise that a lot of people like using self-check-outs; my daughter likes them for the convenience, and I don’t have a problem with them existing for those who want to use them,” another poster replied.

“Just don’t take away my choice to use a traditional checkout with a human cashier.”

Other commenters referenced the recent decision made by UK supermarket chain Booths to ditch self-service check-outs in a bid to improve customer service.

In November, the British retailer announced it would replace the check-outs in all but two of its 27 supermarkets, according to The Grocer.

A recent survey showed that many shoppers find self-service check-outs too troublesome to use. Many instead opt to head over to a staff-manned checkout, leading to long queues and disgruntled customers.

Booths managing director Nigel Murray told the publication the supermarket was not a “great fan of self-check-outs”.

Technology can be problematic. Picture: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News
Technology can be problematic. Picture: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

“We pride ourselves on great customer service and you can’t do that through a robot,” he said.

Mr Murray also revealed that the technology could be “problematic” and cause customers to have to wait longer, for example, when workers need to check ID for alcohol or when weighing an item.

With the innocent Facebook post sparking considerable debate, the question remains whether Coles will remain loyal to self-service or follow the example of chains who have abandoned the system.