Marks & Spencer has been blasted for “snubbing” elderly customers by forcing them to use touch screens to order in automated cafes. The mega-retailer is closing the traditional food counter in eight “digital M&S cafes”, including at two megastores.
Staff are focused on making food and drinks rather than taking orders, with customers alerted when their order is ready.
Elderly customers have described the move as “abhorrent”, reported The Telegraph.
The store which has strived to become one of the most digital-savvy supermarkets in recent years, has also started trialling self-service belted checkouts alongside manned tills in two food halls.
These are at London Colney, near Watford, and White Rose Shopping Center near Leeds – two of its largest stores which also have the digital cafes installed, with the possibility that they could be rolled out further.
The retailer insists staff are always on hand to assist confused customers and that “as customers are changing the way they want to shop, we’re innovating to make M&S a great place to shop”.
One of the shoppers at London Colney told The Telegraph there was “a whole queue of elderly people, all needing assistance at the self-service checkouts”, while in the cafe “a cappuccino arrived with chocolate on when we didn’t want this, but couldn’t select it on the touch screen”.
Silver Voices, a membership group for older people in the UK, said it was “pretty disgusted” that M&S was “now going hell for leather for full digital”.
Dennis Reed, its director, told The Telegraph: “It’s off-putting and it’s isolating as far as older people are concerned.
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“There will be a reaction to this – in a few years time there will be stores set up saying ‘customer-friendly stores – we serve you with a person rather than a machine’.
“People will flock to those places because a lot of people like human contact. It’s all about profit and reducing staff and snubbing older people.”
Sarah Gayton, shared space co-ordinator at the National Federation of the Blind of the UK, said: “It is abhorrent this new system and it’s clear the people making the decisions must have spent their young lives locked to the computer not experiencing what is true. customer service is.
“They must U-turn on this policy. These machines take the heart and soul out of the shopping experience and customers are unhappy, frustrated and excluded. For the blind and visually impaired, it’s totally alien to them.
“Normally I demand to have a checkout. I insist that someone serves me at the till – I stand my ground and say, ‘look, I want customer service’. Marks and Sparks customers want to have a chat, a catch up, chat about the weather – it could be that person’s only human contact that day.”
She said she was recently at an M&S store in Tamworth, near Birmingham, and saw a woman, aged about 70, “lost and just stood there on her own, forced to use a self-service checkout with a massive shop” as the store was about to close.
Disgruntled M&S shoppers have taken to social media too, with one saying they “insisted that the assistant do it for me or I would leave the shopping” and another saying they “refused to use self-service tills”.
An M&S spokesperson said self-service tills were “focused in our smaller convenience stores” but were being trialled at the larger stores, alongside the digital cafes with an investment in additional staff.
The spokesperson said there was always “a colleague on hand to help customers” with a focus on improving customer experience.
Its digital cafes are designed to reduce queues and waiting times and the response from customers to the trial so far has been “positive”, said the spokesperson.