A slightly worrying insight view of technology

I never check my supermarket till receipts. I tend to trust in the fact that every item is scanned as it crosses the laser read-out, with a compliant ‘beep’ as the item is read, recorded, and added to the running total. All done by super-fast computer technology, and backed-up by the in-store systems operated by all major supermarket chains. As every person who goes shopping will perhaps understand, you know approximately how much your shop is going to add up to, and unless there is a large enough discrepancy from that total, held in your mind, is reflected in the printout totals spoken, and then given you by the check-out operator; you just do not react.


I normally do much of the weekly shop online, using the built-in spreadsheets offered by my supermarket on their website pages. I then collect it at the appropriate point, then go inside the store and choose the few things which I prefer to pick in real-time, as it were. I choose this method solely because I can do my weekly shopping quickly, and am then able to limit my time away from my wife, now dependent upon me for many years. One of the items I buy in-store is a bottle of wine. I’m not a heavy drinker, one glass per evening suits me, and I buy what I can afford, which usually precludes the higher-priced ranges. But when, as happened last Friday, a substantial reduction is offered, I popped a bottle into the trolley, finishing my picks, and paid for the lot at the check-out.


Unloading and storing all the items takes some time, but all was stored away in freezer, fridge and cupboards. Clearing up afterwards, I was just about to bin the receipt for the items bought in-store, but glanced at it, and came to a full stop. There, on the till slip, was itemised two bottles of the upmarket booze chosen by me; but a glance at the wine box showed that which I already knew, a total of one bottle. So I photographed the bottle label,, and went back to the supermarket customer help-desk, and stated, rather hesitantly, I will admit; that I thought the supermarket had double-charged me. I told the extremely nice assistant that she would maybe have to take my word for my problem, and wondered what she was able to do for me.


She checked the photo on my phone, disappeared into the store but came swiftly back with a duplicate bottle for, as she stated, the bar-code. Then, the amazing and yet slightly-worrying point of my small story: she went on to the store computer systems, using the till receipt as a guide to both time and checkout number, located the exact time when I was buying all my items on an in-store computer video recording. As the bottle had a safety-tag attached to it, my purchase of one bottle only was instantly shown. The customer services assistant then opened the till, and handed me DOUBLE the amount I had originally paid for the wine. She stated, as I commenced stating the obvious, that I had only bought one bottle; that as it was an in-store error, the policy was to pay out double the mistake. The worrying factor? The time taken, once the bar-code of the wine bottle was established; was a total of thirty-five seconds: inclusive of her logging on to two store computer systems.


We are, indeed, in an age of a scrutiny so detailed as to be slightly unnerving. I have been using computers and electronic devices for over forty years, I have kept myself as up-to-date as I felt needed; but: THIRTY-FIVE SECONDS: to prove me right! In just one store in Durham City in North-East England.



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