Not as easy as it looks

Life, sometimes, is not as easy as it looks. Before my usual riding lesson this morning – a lesson which was cut short because Mr Bob has caught a dose of the flu bug going round the stables – I went shopping for groceries for my mother. I was up against the clock and thought it would be simple, forgetting that traffic in the morning is a bit congested.

But having arrived and parked, remembered to wear my mask and having skipped as fast as I could round the shelves, I waited to be served at the single cash-desk with a member of staff checking out groceries. And I did wonder whether I should use the self-service check-outs, as seemed to be the general expectation.  

I would love to use the self-service more often, and I do realise that most retail outlets would encourage this. Many stores now offer only self-service to departing customers, having dispensed with check-out assistants almost altogether. But I find self-service hard to manage. Not only does the scanner seem to work very slowly and haltingly for me, but with an elbow-crutch on one arm, having to scan items with codes on, navigate stacks of groceries and packing bags as well as masks and clouded glasses, I just despair of ever managing to complete a self-service shop in less time than it would take me to have a bath: not quite the ‘quick and easy’ option touted by the supermarkets then.

And, when shopping in a hurry, that makes for an unenviable choice: wait in a long queue for the single check-out available at which there is a member of staff ready to assist (there being three other check-outs un-manned despite the queues of customers clearly still wedded to the idea of staffed checkouts) or spend a fraught twenty minutes trying not to fall, get tangled up with bags, or drop and spoil groceries which I am supposed to stack and pack in the ludicrously small space available at self-service kiosks. Not to mention that old saw thankfully receding, “Unexpected item in the bagging area,” which no-one seems able to explain, let alone comply with.

Yes, technology is easy, assuming you have a head for passwords, thin, quick digits for texting and typing, and an inordinate patience with processes which require to be carried out either self-service or on-line or both. But it isn’t as easy as it looks, nor as simple as those in the know will tell us. I bet, if there was a time and motion study carried out before ‘smart technological advances’ were introduced, we would discover that – surprise! – the much-touted time and manpower cost savings are seriously eroded by the real-time soul-destroying minutiae of errors, corrections, procedural requirements, compliance, and the loss of goodwill that fed-up customers represent.

‘Quick and easy’ is so often the euphemism for ‘less expensive’, a euphemism which also implies that anyone who disagrees, or who doesn’t actively enjoy ‘quick and easy’ is a party pooper, behind the times, a behemoth. But I’m not an ice-age mammoth, I’m merely a busy woman short of time who wants to buy groceries without having the run yet another gamut of challenge and difficulty. It would be simplistic of me to ask the supermarkets to ‘bring back the check-out staff’, but the fact that I am waiting, obviously hampered by my walking aid, and in a hurry might suggest to someone that they could offer to help. Because Life is not as easy as it looks.

Thanks for reading.

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