Morrisons’ new CEO says in-store managers know best how to manage queues / Getty Images

Morrisons’ new CEO says in-store managers know best how to manage queues

Whether it is the humiliation of placing an unexpected item in the bagging area or fighting off the constant demands for a loyalty card, the modern experience of reaching the supermarket till can often be more stressful than the shopping itself.

But there may be hope. One of Britain’s major retailers, the supermarket chain Morrisons, has finally conceded that some of its attempts to computerise the shopping process have backfired and has ordered humans to take over where the machines have failed.

David Potts, who took charge as Morrisons CEO last week, has told store managers to ditch the supermarket’s Intelligent Queue Management system (iQM), which was rolled out nationwide in 2008. At the time, it was trumpeted by the supermarket as an “exciting” and “innovative” way of cutting queuing times.

The system employed infrared sensors to determine how many checkouts to keep open by calculating how many customers were flowing through the store. This allowed managers to take staff off the tills during quieter periods so they could be redeployed elsewhere.

Although pilot trials suggested that the innovation cut queuing times by five per cent, it proved unpopular with staff, who claimed it was pointless and inefficient.

Writing on the online job reviews website last year, one Morrisons employee who said they worked at the Felixstowe store in Suffolk described the iQM system as “a waste of time and money” which led to a knock-on effect for other departments.

Another staff member, posting last summer, advised the chain to “start listening to customers”

It seems that the pressure worked. After questioning customers about how to improve their experience at the tills, Morrisons executives concluded that decisions on when to open and close checkouts were best left to humans rather than computers.

“We intend to be an organisation that listens very hard to its customers and staff and, wherever possible, responds quickly,” Mr Potts said. “Our colleagues in our stores are best-placed to use their experience and personal judgment in deciding how best to serve their customers, keeping queues low at the checkouts and improving the customer’s shopping trip.”

In another victory for man over machine, the supermarket announced it is to stop using the controversial “scan rate” system, which measures the performance of checkout staff by calculating how many products they scan per minute.

When it imposed the targets in 2012, Morrisons was accused of “turning supermarkets into a battery hen farm”.

Supermarket technology: Hits and misses

Self-scan checkouts

They are supposed to save time, but as anyone who has ever had the alarming phrase “unexpected item in bagging area” barked at them knows, the process of scanning your own shopping can often take far longer than going to a traditional till. Attempting to buy alcohol using one of these is deeply unwise.

Misting units

Supposed to keep fresh fruit and vegetables looking their best, the innovation was ditched by Morrisons last month as part of its “back to basics” drive. Analysts cited the pretentious displays as evidence that the retailer had lost touch with its core customers, while others likened the experience to plucking a lettuce out of a cauldron of dry ice.

Shelf-switching

Just when you think you know the layout of your local supermarket, they go and change everything around. The tactic is a common one by retailers, who want to keep shoppers in store for as long as possible – far more likely if they don’t know where anything is located.

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