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 striven 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 Centre near Leeds – two of its largest stores which also have the digital cafes installed, with the possibility 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.
“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 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.