WHSmith has again been voted the UK’s worst high street shop.

The chain finished bottom of the Which? survey for the ninth year in a row, scoring just 50 per cent for customer satisfaction.

People criticised WHSmith for value for money, service and in-store experience.

For what it’s worth, I think WHSmith staff are very pleasant and helpful. When I can find them.

Sometimes a visit to Smiths feels like being on the set of a futuristic sci-fi film in which humans have been banished and machines have taken over.

Except the machines are a bit rubbish.

Smith’s was a pioneer in the surreal world of “Unexpected item in bagging area.”

I remember when its self-service tills first opened, wondering why buying a Toblerone was suddenly more complex than negotiating peace in the Middle East.

Many shops have this kind of technology now. But the WHSmith version remains strangely unreliable.

I want to scream “Unexpected item in bagging area? What’s unexpected about a newspaper in a newsagents?”

You might have thought that several years of seeing customers standing in slack-jawed bemusement would have persuaded bosses to hire more staff.

Instead they’ve kept the self-service tills and often have just one member of staff... who operates a self-service till on behalf of customers.

These days social media users are only too happy to point out when service falls below their demanding standards.

Companies are always apologising, thanking people for calling them terrible, and vowing to do better.

Part of me admires a business which appears thick-skinned enough to carry on regardless.

WHSmith came out fighting in response to the Which? survey. A spokeswoman said: “This survey is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base.”

She added: “Unexpected item in bagging area.”

Of course many businesses could do more for their customers.

In my experience, one hotel in Carlisle city centre seems astonished when anyone wants to use its bar.

I’ve been there on two recent Saturday lunchtimes. On both occasions the place was packed with would-be customers while the one member of staff kept disappearing, perhaps to cry.

I sympathised. We all want things to be cheaper. But maybe lack of staff is the real price we pay.