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Panic! at the Tesco: Why Brits are boycotting the UK's largest supermarket chain

calendar iconJan 6, 2020

The UK's largest supermarket chain recently announced a change on payments at their Scan-as-you-Shop stores but shoppers are protesting the issue, criticizing the move on social media and threatening to boycott.

For a while now, Tesco's Scan-as-you-Shop stores have allowed ClubCard members to charge items themselves as they move items off the shelves and into their bags, thus eliminating the stressful unpack-scan-repack-shop alternative which, let's face it, can feel like a race against the impatient glares of a looming queue. Soon, ClubCard will be taking on a darker meaning, by restricting where cash is accepted.

Headlines have used words such as "outrage" and "disappointment" to describe the response to the supermarket's cashless payments policy but is the backlash justified?

"Feels like people that pay cash are been punished for paying that way, I for one don’t like using my card unless I really really have to, just my opinion."
"Anonymous shopper, UKAs quoted by ManchesterEvening News (Jan 2, 2019)

A Tesco spokesperson told the Manchester Evening News that 9 in 10 customers using the handheld scanners pay with card, "so to make it easier and faster for customers, the Scan As You Shop tills at most of our larger stores will take card payments only, from the 13th January."


Upset shoppers argue that the change is unfair and unnecessary. Some have threatened to shop elsewhere while others have politely requested Tesco review the policy. It is curious that the largest supermarket chain would restrict the use of the most universal payment form. True, cash is not entirely denied from the Scan-as-you-Shop experience as members are still able to use the handheld scanners and pay cash, only they must journey to the cash-friendly checkout tills one aisle over.

Perhaps, some customers have protested the change with such passion because they believed their favorite shopping gadget would no longer be compatible with their favorite payment form. The negative response could be a result of miscommunication, as customers informed by a receipt reading: "Want to pay with cash? You can still do so by using self-service tills or main checkouts" might have understandably interpreted this having to shop without the handheld device. Either way, Tesco clarified the matter on Twitter on January 5th, 2020:

"We know that not all customers want to pay with card though, so you can still pay with cash through any other checkout in the store. We’re committed to giving customers choice, so you can still use Scan As You Shop and pay with cash by checking out at the self-service area. 1/2"
"@Tesco via TwitterTesco (Jan 5, 2020)

More likely, the backlash is a response, not to the miscommunication nor to the mild inconvenience of having to use one kiosk or another, but to the principle behind the change. Why should checkout queues be divided by payment choice when each one is perfectly capable of accepting cash, card and mobile payments? It might be a minor thing, but if, as the chain's slogan claims, "every little helps" is true, exactly who is this little cashless change benefitting?

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How does Scan-as-you-Shop work?

Customers who have signed up to Tesco's ClubCard membership program, pick up a handheld scanner as they enter the store which they then use to scan items they want from the shelves before placing the items into their bags. On their way out, they pay for their total shopping by scanning a barcode (produced on the handheld scanner) at one of the special checkout machines, paying with card or cash (for now).

What's changing?

ClubCard members who want to enjoy the benefits of the Scan-as-you-Shop program will no longer have the option to pay with cash at the Scan-as-you-Shop checkout machines, they will however, be able to complete their purchase at a regular till or counter.

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Last Updated: Feb 25, 2020

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