Nearly a quarter of a million people have signed a disabled campaigner’s petition that calls for supermarket giant Tesco to stop introducing self-service, card-only tills in its stores.
Pat McCarthy (pictured) says her local supermarket in Osterley, west London, is becoming steadily more inaccessible to her and other disabled customers as it replaces staffed checkouts with a new design of self-service tills which do not accept cash.
She says shopping at her local store has become “physically difficult”, “overwhelming”, and a “nightmare”.
The growth in self-service tills – particularly the new type installed at the Osterley store, which look like normal staffed checkouts – has led to longer queues at the few remaining staffed checkouts, and it has made shopping a more “physically taxing process”, she says.
She hopes that her Stop Replacing People by Machines campaign will help persuade Tesco – and other supermarkets – to reverse the trend towards installing self-service, card-only tills.
She told Disability News Service that these tills “discriminate against many disabled people” including many of those with visual, mobility or dexterity impairments, shoppers who find lifting and carrying difficult, and those who cannot use the new automated payment processes.
She said that self-service, card-only tills also create problems for care workers who are shopping for clients in cash and others for whom cash is their only means of paying for their shopping.
McCarthy said Tesco had “failed to engage professionally” with her concerns about the new tills and had refused her offers to attend a board meeting and debate the issue on television.
She said: “They don’t want to have the debate. I would like them to explain why they have gone over to self-service tills, other than to save money and maximise profit; these new tills must have cost millions to install.”
In a letter to Tesco’s chief executive, she wrote: “The new tills are contrary to good customer service and experience and many find that they are left behind in the technology and automation process that has now become our day-to-day ordinary shopping experience.
“What used to be pleasurable has now become a shopping ‘nightmare’.”
McCarthy said she decided to launch the petition because she felt Tesco’s actions were “unfair” and the company had failed to assess how they would impact disabled people.
She said she was “stunned” by the public’s reaction to her petition.
Although Tesco is the market leader, other supermarkets are heading in a similar direction on automated tills, she said.
Tesco is already trialling one store that has no staffed checkouts, in Holborn, central London, although staff are still available to support customers.
Customers with the Tesco app can check-in to the store, pick up their groceries and walk out again without visiting a checkout.
McCarthy, an active member of the Hillingdon and Hounslow branch of the Unite Community union, started her petition on Change.org last year, and it has now been signed by more than 240,000 people.
One disabled woman who signed the petition said: “I am disabled and in a wheelchair. Self service tills are impossible to use.”
Another disabled shopper wrote: “I’m visually impaired and can’t see the instructions when needing to weigh things.
“I’m fed up when no other tills are open and the long wait when you need assistance, it also encourages people to steal things.”
A third said: “I also have health problems and find the self service tills difficult.”
They said other supermarkets were taking a similar approach to Tesco, including Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.
Tesco declined to say if it believed that replacing staffed checkouts with self-service tills, and introducing more card-only tills, was discriminatory and would make life more difficult for disabled shoppers.
It also declined to say if it had assessed the impact of these measures on disabled shoppers, and how many staffed checkouts had been replaced by self-service tills in the last 12 months.
But a spokesperson said in a statement: “Everyone is welcome at Tesco and we work hard to support our customers with disabilities, ensuring an accessible shopping experience for all – and we always give our customers the choice on how they want to check-out and pay.
“We first introduced self-service checkouts nearly 20 years ago and they have proved extremely popular with customers.
“Our colleagues and the friendly service they provide are absolutely vital to our stores and will always be on hand to help our customers, whether they are checking out at one of our colleague-operated or self-service checkouts.”
The spokesperson said that all Tesco stores – apart from the one in Holborn – offer a choice between staffed and self-service checkouts, and the company remains “committed to providing a wide choice of payment options at our stores”.
He said Tesco had also introduced features to help disabled customers, including working with the charity RNIB on a zoomed-in feature on self-service checkouts to help partially-sighted people pay for their groceries, and trialling lower or height-adjustable self-service checkouts.
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