For years, it’s provided fertile material for stand-up comedians’ routines and post-shopping trip moans, but soon a rather iconic sound will disappear from Tesco’s checkouts forever.
We’re talking about the dreaded proclamation “unexpected item in bagging area” - a phrase that has taken on something of a cult status over the last decade or so, even if it does drive shoppers crazy. However, for Tesco customers at least, the torment will be over by the end of the year after a new, “chattier” male voice is rolled out to stores nationwide. The poor lady who provided the original voiceover for the machines - former Eastenders actress Helena Breck, if you’re interested - could not have predicted how loathed that simple catchphrase would become, nor how loud the clamour to silence her.
Will Tesco’s move to placate the complainers result in more custom for their stores? Surely changing such a tiny element of the shopping experience won’t make that much difference, will it?
I think we all know that it very probably will. Renowned for our stiff upper lips, us Brits traditionally don’t like to complain about the big things. We’re the kings and queens of suffering in silence - until, of course, something trivial really gets our goat. However, complaining seems to be something we’re getting better at, particularly since the internet has made it possible to mark our displeasure without having to confront a service provider face to face. Call it cowardice if you will, but the likes of TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter and individual businesses’ own calls for electronic feedback have had even the most recitant people flexing their fault-finding fingers.
In this case, it looks like the voice of the people has spoken and been heeded. But one has to ask what other feedback Tesco received, alongside the peevish complaints about the annoying voice at the checkout. Were their customers entirely happy with product pricing and quality, for example, or with food provenance and customer service? By reacting in such a high profile and, presumably, expensive way to their customers’ opinions, Tesco have pulled off quite a clever PR trick, by appearing to go to great trouble to satisfy their patrons’ every whim, however small.
A buzzing fly is often more irritating than an elephant in the room - swat the former and you might be able to throw a rug over the latter, at least for a time. Canny business strategy, or cynical spin? Let us know your thoughts.