Why Tesco’s TikTok payment voice search is a good move | Comment and opinion

A lot of people just don’t want human interaction, thanks. For every individual who loudly complains about fewer checkout staff, meaning they’re missing out on good witting, there’s an introvert who could do without feeling judged about their purchases and excruciating small talk.

Probably more. According to a 2018 study by Whistl, only 17% of Britons consider human interaction important when it comes to shopping. It was found that nearly two-thirds preferred to use self-checkouts, and that was before the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean the machines have to lack a bit of human brilliance.

Weeks after its appearance, Tesco would remove the main manned checkout banks from a series of its largest stores, the supermarket launched a TikTok campaign to find the new voice of its self-service checkouts.

Sound movement. Immediately, all those negative headlines suggesting job cuts amid a cost of living crisis are replaced by something much brighter.

It’s virtually guaranteed to be a viral hit. What influencer wouldn’t want to be heard regularly across the country by millions? And, as death metal singer Hunter Black proves screaming his answers, it’s clearly ripe for humor. (Tesco will no doubt appreciate that rival Aldi’s social team has – finally – shown shortcomings with its simply not so funny answer.)

But more than that, it’s a clear recognition of the importance of self-checkout as a channel. Since machines are increasingly the only “touch point” between retailer and shopper, it makes sense to make the most of them (besides, the complete lack of interaction from Amazon Fresh not doing very well). The pre-loaded choice of voices from manufacturers just isn’t good enough anymore (indeed, Tesco replaced the original payment voice in 2015 after customers found it “screaming” and irritating”).

Other retailers have played with the voice. Ant and Dec, along with Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon, M&S self-service checkouts expressed in 2019 as part of a Britain’s Got Talent promotion. Poundland played Yoda, Santa and Dracula on its machines. But most opted for a clear and concise – and too often robotically boring – voice-over artist.

It is not yet clear who Tesco will choose. Perhaps there will be more than one per region, with the accent of the region? It certainly won’t be a cyborg-esque Siri or Alexa style voice. And in doing so, the machines will go from a big company labor cost saver to “one of us” – someone who doesn’t care about the weather either.

Amanda J. Marsh