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May 27, 2021

New Tim Hortons self-serve kiosks brew up a fuss

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

On the surface, every self-checkout at a modern grocery store appears as a slap in the face to shoppers. We don’t want to pay someone to scan and bag your food. You do it.

In its most traditional sense, it is the proverbial Eff You, nail-in-the-coffin to customer service.

Yet there’s also mounting sentiment that self-checkouts streamline the shopping process, which – when you’ve got two screaming kids and are stuck waiting for Samantha Teenybop to run through the ten customers ahead of you – could be understandably awful. They are convenient and, as Mr. T might say, don’t give you no jibber-jabber.

Well, judging by their increased prevalence, self-checkouts clearly make fiscal sense, too. More companies are adopting them and, now, they could be making their way into your most sacred hangout: the local Tim Hortons.

Tim’s has unveiled two new self-order kiosks in the GTA (one in the city’s west-end, the other across from the coffee shop’s Oakville headquarters) and they’ve already sent people in a tizzy the way I imagine most seniors would react if Shoppers announced they’d no longer carry bags of Werther’s Originals.

The kiosks, which Tim’s says are in the experimental phase, are meant to make orders “more efficient and with less human contact than ever before,” according to the Toronto Star.

While you can understand Tim’s reasoning for trying to get on the self-serve bandwagon, there sure seem to be a few wrinkles to iron out before spreading the kiosks across Canada.

First, the machines only accept Tim Cards or MasterCard as payment so, if you don’t have a Tim Card (or are one of the 40 bagillion people who use Visa and not MasterCard), you’re screwed. You might as well line up with the rest of us suckers.

Second, as the Star points out, it leaves a lot to be desired in the way of custom ordering. While it can’t for now, do future versions of the Tim’s self-serve kiosk plan to allow you to hold the tomato on your sandwich, or have just a little bit of cream in your coffee instead of the whole carton? This, we’d like to know.

And third, perhaps most importantly, it appears that after placing your order in the self-serve kiosk and beating the line, in order to get your food or drink you have to … jump in line to get it. Uh, what? How does this make sense? This would be like forking over an annual fee for a 407 transponder and then gleefully hopping on the 401 everyday during rush hour. Isn’t the idea of the self-serve kiosk to speed things up? Where exactly is my incentive to use it, then, if that isn’t the case?

Of course, veteran Tim Heads are all up in a fuss about the new checkouts and, sure, it’s fun to debate this way or that about the state of customer service today and “the way things used to be.”

But maybe there’s also a larger picture here to be concerned about. If Tim’s is serious about getting these self-serve kiosks out there, what’s this to mean about the number of employees the chain will need to run its stores? If anything, companies losing money have to be looking for any excuse to trim staff while they ride out the recession, and this sure looks to be a dandy reason to do so, doesn’t it?

Whether or not the kiosks actually make it mainstream while the economy stinks may not even matter. Still seems like a relevant issue going forward, regardless.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...