Tesco has been accused of “chasing solutions to problems that don’t exist” with the unveiling of its till-free Holborn store.
The site, which opened today, uses cameras and weight sensors to detect when items are picked up and bills customers via an app.
Speaking to the Grocery Gazette, Usdaw national officer Pauline Foulkes cautioned the grocer against being “dazzled by new technology”.
“Shop workers provide the customer service that many shoppers really value,” she said.
READ MORE: Tesco launches first checkout-free store
“We do not want to see jobs cut through the introduction of new technology.”
Foulkes argued that till-free systems risked customer confusion and thefts, which can be “real flashpoints of abuse” for staff.
The issue of shop worker mistreatment has taken off since lockdown began in early 2020.
According to an Usdaw survey, nine in 10 employees were threatened and six in 10 were verbally abused last year, while one in 10 was physically assaulted.
The Home Affairs Committee concluded in June that retail staff should have “extra protection by the law”.
“Well-paid shop workers, in secure jobs, who are valued and respected are what is best for business,” Foulkes said.
Tesco opened its first checkout-free shop at its headquarters in Welwyn Garden City three years ago.
It announced plans to test the system “in a more urban environment” in June, later selecting its Holborn Express store.
Choosing the London location puts it close to the five till-free “Fresh” stores Amazon has opened in the capital since March.
Sainsbury’s concluded that “not all… customers are ready for a till-free store” after a three-month trial in Holborn two years ago.
Long queues are said to have formed at the helpdesk as shoppers tried to pay staff for their goods.
“We continue to invest in our colleagues and will have the same number of colleagues in our Holborn store now as before it was frictionless,” a Tesco spokesperson said.
“This is a one-store trial and we look forward to seeing how our customers respond.”