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Coles shoppers dispute self-service checkout claim: 'Don't twist the truth'

Self-service checkouts continue to divide Aussie supermarket customers.

A debate over Aussie preferences when it comes to self-service checkouts has erupted after a Coles shopper expressed frustration over the absence of staffed registers at her local store.

The disgruntled shopper, unhappy with the shift, raised concerns about the declining level of customer service and its potential impact on vulnerable people.

In response to the complaint, Coles defended their decision by stating that self-service checkouts are preferred by the majority of their customers.

Coles self-service checkout
Coles responded to the customer's concerns about declining customer service. Source: Facebook

Yahoo News Australia understands the statistic comes from customer surveys conducted by the retailer, as well as observations of in-store trends and how customers are choosing to shop.

“I am disgusted with your customer service," the shopper vented on the Coles Facebook page. "On a visit to our local Coles (where the staff are awesome) I am now faced with a bank of self-serve checkouts and not one single staffed checkout! What happened to service?"

Two-thirds prefer self-service: Coles

Acknowledging the woman's concerns, Coles provided insight into their rationale for prioritising self-service systems. "Currently, two-thirds of supermarket customers prefer to use self-checkouts instead of main lanes and we continue to see that number increase," a Coles representative responded on Facebook.

Several Facebook users disputed that two-thirds of customers prefer self-service checkouts. "No, that stat is false. Many of those two-thirds are forced to use them. Don't twist the truth," commented one. "Coles, actually no, customers for all types of companies are sick and tired of the increase in having to do things online and having to use self-service checkouts in supermarkets," added another.

Coles didn't provide a source for the statistic when requested by Yahoo News. A spokesperson did, however, explain the retailer's position, saying self-service registers allow customers to speed up their checkout experience, while staff assistance is still available to those who need it.

"Self-service checkouts are a great option for customers because they offer convenience and efficiency when shopping in our stores," the spokesperson said. "Team members will always be available throughout our service area to help our customers if they would like assistance."

Do Aussies really prefer self-service checkouts?

Customer experience expert Lyndall Spooner of data consultancy Fifth Dimension weighed in on the issue, stating that the role of technology will and should expand to replace basic face-to-face interactions in the future, as it can enhance the service experience.

"Humans are expensive and should only be deployed when they can lift the service experience beyond the current capabilities of tech," Ms Spooner told Yahoo, before pointing out that consumers do have a positive inclination towards self-service checkouts and check-ins, as these processes provide convenience and satisfaction — when they work properly.

Coles shoppers at checkout
According to an industry expert, consumers prefer self-service checkouts when the technology works well. Source: Getty

"When you just want to pay or just get your boarding ticket for a flight, the ability to conduct the transaction yourself is highly satisfying when the process is frictionless. Because that is all it is – a process. Speed and ease is most desirable and that's what you get from well designed technology."

"And even if technically you take a bit longer than a service assistant, the fact you did it yourself and you didn't have to watch the other person try and complete it for you (maybe not exactly as you would have done it) you feel a greater sense of achievement," Ms Spooner explained.

According to Ms Spooner, while technology-driven processes offer convenience, it's crucial to also recognise that they can cause frustration. "The frictionless process often is not designed for non-standard requests," she said. "Humans deliver to the customer needs that are not met by technology – often these are times when consumers are the most emotional."

Jobs on the line?

Another major concern about new supermarket technology is the impact on jobs, with some Facebook users arguing that the introduction of self-service checkouts has resulted in fewer employees.

However, Coles disputes this claim. "We have never been more committed to supporting Australians with employment, having recruited an additional 22,000 team members compared to five years ago," the retailer's spokesperson told Yahoo.

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