Yes, the mainstream retail experience is still really rubbish

I’m back in London now, if you haven’t been following my updates on LinkedIn.

Being back in London means I am now once again being exposed to all manner of excitements and frustrations, rather than simply driving to Swindon every day and having a pleasant experience at the hands of BaxterStorey’s finest.

This evening I had a bit of a headache. Probably brought on by the stress of having to get out of bed in the morning after a good few weeks struggling through on 10 hours sleep a night with just the school run to contend with.

I thought I’d lighten the load this evening in Waterloo by popping into Boots and buying some Lemsip. And some reasonably priced bottled water. I popped upstairs and picked up a box. I spied the huge queue of people waiting for the one or two servers to process their purchases.

“No thanks,” I thought to myself and I swiftly headed downstairs, picked up a bottle of water and walked over to the self-checkout area. All five tills were fully utilised but I could tell I’d have a space in about 10 seconds.

A Boots helper chap — the nominated guy who has to hang around the self-checkout tills in case there’s a problem — politely acknowledged me. I spied the lady in front of me vacating the check out machine. I walked forward.

I was interrupted, dear reader, as I was striding to the machine.


Well… small horror!

The helper chap turned to me and asked, “Would you like to go to the till?”

I looked up and saw the flipping manual till had a space. There was another polite chap smiling ready to greet me.

I didn’t have the heart to say, “No.”

In fact I wondered what kind of signal it would send.

My preference was the self-checkout machine.

I don’t want to speak to anybody. The fact I actually have to checkout is already hugely frustrating. The fact Boots haven’t sorted it so I can just walk in, pick up something and walk out is quite annoying.

I had forgotten just how annoying the normal checkout experience is. So I smiled and walked over.

“Would you like a bag?” the chap asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He scanned the few items I had and then read me the price. I could already see the price shown on the till display.

I had to indicate to the guy that I would like to pay with contactless.

“Ah, have you got a Boots card?” the guy asked.

This interrupted the flow somewhat, from my perspective anyway.

“No, thank you.” I replied, cursing — politely, you understand — the Director of Till Systems or Information Systems or whoever it is that is responsible for this utterly annoying question.

Boots cards, nectar points, all that jazz, needs to be seamless. It wants to be seamless. It should be seamless. I don’t want to have to stick in a second card to get some points. I don’t want to have to carry an additional piece of plastic.

Maybe it makes shopping into some jolly excursion for the legions of Boots card holders. Like you’ve ‘won’ something, every time you transact. I wouldn’t know.

But I would like the Director of Whatsit at Boots to implement a system that automatically rewards me based on my credit card number. Or something else. It’s your problem, Boots, to figure it out. What I don’t want is friction.

Asking me if I’ve got a Boots card is unnecessary friction.

I see why they do it. I’m sure the loyalty card system is seriously popular for Boots. I am not, I suspect, the core target audience for them.

The sales chap pressed a button, the contactless terminal lit up. I tapped, done.

He stuck the receipt in the bag and then handed it over to me.

That’s another thing that needs fixing: Receipts. Don’t get me started on paper receipts.

The biggest annoyance, however, came just after this.

I was about to take hold of the bag when the chap suddenly stopped. He’d obviously looked at his screen and seen a prompt.

“Oh, wait…” he exclaimed, “Your voucher!”

He had almost closed the till door. He opened it up and brought out a little pad of generic vouchers. He tore the top sheet off and stuffed it in my bag with a smile.

I saw the offer: £5 off No7 skincare and £3 off No7 make-up.


Thanks for absolutely nothing Boots.  [ Er, apart from the shop, the good service, stocking the products I want, the convenient opening hours… what have the Romans ever done for us? 😉  ]

What kind of targeting went on there? You and I both can guess. None whatsoever. Especially given the chap was pulling the top sheet of a pad of the same vouchers.

They could have probably got me to buy a new shaver. That Gillette one with the ‘ball’ — the Dyson-shaver. But no. They insisted on spamming me indiscriminately with the usual generic tripe.

It’s definitely a #firstworldproblem.

I’m just amazed that in about a year, there hasn’t been any discernible innovation. I wrote about the frustrations with receipt voucher spam last year and it’s still happening. it must be working for them. Or they wouldn’t be doing it, right?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

2 replies on “Yes, the mainstream retail experience is still really rubbish”

Shops make money on vouchers but there’s a limit on each promotion. So its a balancing act between making it too easy to redeem them (eg. applying the voucher automatically) and going over the limit and not making the most out of the promotion. There’s well established redemption rates with paper vouchers, so that’s why retailers stick with it.

When it comes to the separate loyalty card, I’ve no idea why they persist with this as it costs a fortune to run. They should follow TFLs lead, piggy back off someone else’s card and save millions.

Recently I was in the queue for the self checkout at the Boots in Liverpool Street Station and and they also thought that it would be a good idea to get me and a few others to move in to a queue for a till (and they were ever so slightly aggressive about it) even though there were only two or three people in front of me in the queue for self service. What really added insult to injury is that after I joined the queue for the till, the human on till decided to bugger off for lunch. Since then I have said No whenever they try this stunt.

I’m guessing this is a particularly Boots related problem, as I’ve never seen this happen anywhere else.

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