Self Service: TRIZ Inventive Principle No. 25 (Hitting the iceberg)

Last night I had the worst shopping experience of my life. This morning I woke up early, and angry and typed this.

At 8pm last night we called into, what used to be my favourite supermarket, Morrisons for a medium sized shop. By 9pm I was seething, telling off senior staff, hardly speaking to my wife…

After a quick run round the shop at 8pm we headed towards the tills looking forward to our chat with a friendly face who would comment on everything that we had bought. “Oooh that’s a bargain”, “I prefer this washing up liquid too, nicer on your hands” and “do you need any help packing”. But tonight was going to be different.

None of the tills were manned. We were pointed towards the self service area by two ‘assistants’. “That’s all that is available, but we are here to help” they then went back to chatting to each other.

I must point out I hate self service tills, I also have a tendency to spot all the problems in the “at the till process”. At Oxford Creativity where we teach Inventive Problem Solving we work to identify all the benefits, then all the costs and harms. In the following ‘new’ process I can see absolutely no benefits for me, the customer, only costs and harms.

  1. Put all your bags in the bagging area. We always bring too many bags, and of varying sizes, but we managed this order. [raises blood pressure and puts you in your place]
  2. I managed to work out, by trial and error, just where the bar code reader was, then the fun began…
  3. All the delays and problems checking items out are now on your shoulders not the person manning a till. Which means I was constantly apologising to the poor man waiting behind me. [solution: get your bar codes and system perfect Morrisons before you experiment with us. This is not a ‘safe to fail’ experiment. I threatened never to come back three times]
  4. The process is designed for one person not two. As you try to speed up, passing items to my wife, if she hadn’t got the item into the bags, the scanner refuses to scan the next item, so we started shouting at each other. [solution: Marriage counsellors at the check outs]
  5. Then the fun began, a cucumber. No bar code. I placed it on the scales area, hopefully. Choose an item was the instructions. Is it a fruit or a vegetable. Alphabetically presented. It wasn’t hard to find the right button but there was a lot going on on screen. [another harm, we will never become as acquainted with their clunky system as a trained till operator]
  6. My first ‘reduced price’ item. Spring greens. Computer refused to scan the bar code. After three attempts I went into Basil Faulty mode and began hitting the machine with the greens. “Do you need some help sir?” our assistants interrupted their chat and, seeing the first signs of chaotic failure, intervened. “Your wife is still holding the eggs, they need to be in a bag to continue”. “But, I don’t want these on the bottom of the bag beneath the potatoes” said my wife in her defence. [Marriage counsellor]
  7. Bottles were easier, swish, swish, swish, but it is now hard to pick up, manoeuvre, swish, pass to wife and still keep a check on whether the price is what you expected. [another harm]
  8. Then we hit the iceberg. An iceberg lettuce with no bar code. Placed it on the scales. Chose Fruit and Veg. Does it begin with an ‘I’ or an ‘L’. Tried I, not there. Tried L, not there. Tried SEARCH option. ICE – is it a bag of ice?. Tried Lettuce – item not found. Pressed button for assistance. “What is this” I playfully asked the young assistant. “Is it celery?” she looked confused. At this point I was trying not to scream. “it’s a lettuce” I helpfully suggested. She then went through all the options I had taken and said “It doesn’t appear to be there”. “Just a minute” and she was off. I apologised twice to the man behind and began whistling. Our assistant returned with another iceberg lettuce, this time with its bar code still on the plastic wrapper. “ Sorry, they keep falling off”.
  9. Eventually we reached the final item. Pressed DONE. “Have you got a reward card?”, fumbled in wallet then realised it was on my key ring. Then tried to scan my ‘extra points’ voucher. Computer said ‘No’. “ You missed the chance to use your voucher at an earlier step”. At this point I was seriously considering walking away, I apologised again to the man behind. He said that he was “seriously considering walking away” and abandoning his trolley. A different assistant intervened. With a swift flash of a pass card, a few codes and passwords, we were back at a previous screen which asked “have you got a voucher?.
  10. You would think that was it. Left to pay for the shopping. I pressed ‘PAY’ only to be told we needed assistance. Waited, apologised and finally we were cleared with a swish and a password that we were over 25 and able to buy alcohol. After this experience we need more alcohol than we bought, but I am not going back in.
  11. You can now remove your bags from the bagging area. Well, we could if we could lift them. No more filling bags in your trolley. Putting all the bottles and soap powder in one bag was a very bad idea. [solution: ambulance on standby outside for back problems and the occasional bruised eye from all the punched faces that will undoubtedly ensue]

I did give feedback and complain immediately, First before we started the check out from hell, second when we hit the iceberg and finally to a ‘Team Leader’ I found chatting to the staff outside the building.

I guess they want us all to conform and order food online. The staff must dislike this process as much as we do, its like a turkey preparing for Christmas. There is no benefit or discount for the customer only the transfer of hassle and aggravation.

I did notice that none of the older till staff were on duty, ‘assisting’ and why would they, which is a shame because Morrisons looked to be providing a real service to the community.

Perhaps we should organise a protest and fun evening where we all go en masse, and buy lots of separate, un-barcoded fruit and veg and purposefully enter the wrong cheaper options, or just go and do your normal shop.



  1. Hi Ron
    That sounds like you hit all the worst aspects of ‘self service’ in one go!
    These tills are an abomination of the worst marketing kind ever. I always refuse to use them in our small Waitrose (especially) suggesting that if they offer a hefty discount on their prices I might consider serving myself.
    Perhaps if everyone refused to buy anything until they open a proper till the marketing execs would get the message, but while we prepared to put up with the ‘convenience’ of self service they’ll keep rubbing their hands in glee at the savings in staff costs.

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