Cutesy voices on self-checkouts need to stop.

Putting Ant & Dec on your checkout doesn’t make it more fun and makes a bad UX even worse.

Olly Browning
4 min readAug 1, 2019

A few weeks ago, after a long and exhausting day of work, I made a whistlestop dash around M&S to grab a ready meal for a lazy dinner. At the self-checkout (of which there are throngs of them in a huge line, all shouting over each other,) I noticed something different about the system this time. They were louder than usual, and the voice had changed but it was still familiar somehow.

“Hi, Amanda here!” said the checkout’s chipper new disembodied voice.

“It’s Ant & Dec, please scan your first item!” another checkout behind me yelled.

It took me a few seconds of sheer WTFuckery before I realised quite what had happened: overnight, the judges of Britain’s Got Talent had gotten inside my M&S checkout as part of a new sponsorship deal. Gone was the pleasingly generic Voice of Checkouts Past, suddenly replaced with the professional voice acting skills of, er, Ant & Dec, Alesha Dixon, and Amanda Holden.

The voices continued for WEEKS. Every trip to M&S that followed was a discordant mess of patronisingly chirpy B-list celebrities trying to get me to part with my cash and telling me how to use a machine I’ve already used hundreds of times before. I pleaded with staff manning the checkouts, longing to know when the voices would stop, only to be greeted with a shrug and a “we hate it too”. Mercifully, now that the latest series of BGT has ended, the pleasingly generic voice is back in its rightful bagging area.

The whole Britain’s Got Talent x M&S ‘campaign’ pissed me off, but I bit my tongue, hoping it’d be a one-off occurrence. Alas, it turns out Poundland have also gotten in on the act too, where just this week I saw a video of a Star-Wars themed checkout encouraging you to “use the force” when… paying for your items. Sigh.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, here’s why I hate these checkout gimmicks so much and think it’s a misstep for retailers to keep pulling stunts like this.

1. It’s patronising.

Back at M&S, I had just finished my shop when Amanda’s disembodied voice followed after me…

Byeeeeeeeee! See you later!

No, Amanda: we are not friends. You will not ‘see me later’, I’m very tired so please stop being so jolly, and I’m also pretty sure you’re not the one who’s rushing home sweaty tonight to bung a mediocre curry-for-one in the microwave.

As someone who uses a self-checkout daily, I find any unexpected change to the interface or the checkout process really jarring; it’s tedious enough to use one in the first place (we’ll touch on that later) that trying to entertain me or using it as an opportunity to make me watch your TV show is infantilising and NOT going to put me in a great mood.

2. It blurs the lines of what’s being advertised.

Supermarkets are already full of shit you can buy — that’s basically the point of them. But when it reaches the stage that not only are supermarkets assaulting your senses about all the stuff you should put in your trolley, but also telling you what you should be watching too, then we’re on rocky ground; I have a choice about what I select at the supermarket. I don’t have a choice about being advertised to like this, and it feels contemptuous — like the shop is trying to monetise something that’s already inherently full of monetisation.

The M&S campaign, in particular, left me with all kinds of questions: Who’s advertising what? M&S advertising BGT or BGT advertising M&S? Both? Who paid who for this? What are they trying to achieve by commercialising their check-outs and reeling out their talent for menial crap like this?

Above all, though, it pisses me off because…

3. It’s the least user-friendly thing retailers can do.

So, you’re telling me that M&S can roll out new voices to all of their machines, all across the country, overnight, but really fundamental things — like the actual design and user experience itself —haven’t been updated or improved for years? I’ve always believed that self-checkouts must have been designed by someone who’s never been to a supermarket before, and this sort of shit is just proof that retailers still don’t focus on customer experience enough.

If you’ve used a self-checkout at all recently you’ll understand how they still fail at even the most basic of shopping tasks. The time between weighing your item before letting you scan the next one takes monumentally long. Searching for loose fruit and veg is slow and inconsistent. Trying to bring your own carrier bag is a farcical nightmare of weighing your bag on the scale, the machine not believing you, then calling a member of staff over to verify it anyway. Then when you do need a member of staff, they’re normally all over the place trying to help other customers with the same issues. These seconds matter in retail, and they’re the vital difference between a self-checkout feeling like a benefit or feeling like an utter pain in the arse.

Self-checkouts have undoubtedly made supermarkets and grocery stores quicker and more convenient to shop at. But whilst retailers continue to dick around with silly voices and flashy campaigns whilst letting the systems themselves remain an outdated and laggy mess is beginning to prove that ‘UX’ is still not a fashionable phrase, or even a priority, in the retail world.

Btw, if you work at a retailer and/or you’re responsible for these machines — call me. I’ve got lots of ideas for quick fixes. 😘



Olly Browning

A freelance writer and graphic designer in London. Follow me on Twitter @yourolly.