I had a rather nasty confrontation in my local supermarket this morning, just at a time when I didn't need one.
It was a full-blown argument over a packet of paracetamol. Being middle-aged, I was convinced that I had the right to purchase.
But the checkout assistant thought otherwise, and everything came to a grinding halt. I sought help. But in true supermarket tradition, their out-of-normal working hours trading habits - 24 hours a day opening or not - do not transcend to having help freely available before 8.30am or after 7pm.
The assistant kept infuriatingly telling me "I needed authorisation".
With only a decade to my old aged pension, I felt I did not “need authorisation”.
Sadly, these self-service check-out machines don't listen. They're the things that supermarkets seem to insist replace the grumpy teenagers otherwise subsidising their huge student loans and who normally sit at the end of the conveyor belt and have perfected that stance so beloved by bank managers and estate agents - the ability to be sincere even when they really don't mean it.
Now there is one distinct advantage the self check-out has over its human equivalent. The fake fur brigade, who have conveniently parked their large 4x4 tractor in the nearest available disabled driver's space, can complain all they like to the machine that the shop has run out of organic cauliflower and poppy seeds. It won’t bat an eye-lid or become in any way embarrassed.
The supermarkets are quick to say that the self check-out machines help "streamline the purchasing experience for customers, especially those with only a few items". This translates as "it's far cheaper to employ machines than people".
But the whole thing seems to have backfired, as Tesco will testify by their recent figures. Having one spotty youth with headphones looking after a half a dozen quite uncooperative automatons that haven't the slightest ability to positively discriminate, is not good for business.
Yes, OK, the headphones come with a microphone, so the spotty youth can pretend, during quieter trading hours, that they are in the X-Factor final. It is still a heavy and rather unfair undertaking for one spotty youth to have to look after six times the number of checkouts and six times the number of grumpy customers blaming him personally for the lack of organic cauliflower and poppy seeds because they have cottoned-on that while the machines may listen, they steadfastly refuse to respond to their rantings and ravings.
On the other side of the coin, there comes a point where the customer becomes rather fed up at having to do everything themselves in supermarkets. This is especially with the habit some of the chains have of rotating stock in the misguided belief that customers will purchase other items as they search for the mustard than has mysteriously moved seven isles across the shop beside the male shaving products, which have in turn themselves been relocated from beside the luggage labels and suitcase locks.
People will never cease in their requirement for a human being to instantaneously answer their queries, stupid or otherwise, and the supermarket that realises this soonest, instead of assuming we will wander around like purchasing zombies, filling our trollies to capacity with things we don't really need, is the one that will rule the retail waves.