I really noticed the trend about six months ago when I went to stores CVS in downtown Boston and Davis Square in Somerville and saw self-service counters where there used to be cashiers. Before then, I noticed it in the Stop & Shop in Dorchester, near my home: an increase of self-service and fewer live cashiers. I probably first noticed the trend toward self-service counters in BJ’s Warehouse. When I see these systems, I get annoyed and angry.
There are two reasons why I don’t use self-checkout counters:
They eliminate important jobs.
High school student, retirees, young parents, people re-entering the job market after having been incarcerated, categories of people who truly need the employment that retailers like CVS, Stop & Shop and BJs Warehouse provide, are having their opportunities to enter the job market eliminated with the embracing of self-services technologies by these companies.
(While there is usually a floater running around to help people with the inevitable technology glitches with these machines, it is usually a single person – or manager – in this role, rather than the numbers of cashiers that existed before.)
They don’t save me money.
The consumer is not offered a discount for scanning and bagging their purchases and I have not seen prices go down in any of these stores as a result of these practices. What goes down is customer service. (I remember when the Edwards Food Warehouses that used to exist in Boston claimed that they had lower prices on groceries as a result of having people bag their own groceries, but even then, they still employed cashiers to scan purchases.)
The retailers who employ this technology do it to optimize profits. The consumers who embrace this technology do it for convenience and because they don’t think about the long-term societal costs.
A report by IBM, “Shrink and self-checkout trends, technology & tips” asserts that consumers embrace the technology as evidenced by use of self-service kiosks at airports. I don’t remember being given a real choice in the matter. The machines appeared one day as did the opportunity to make my own reservations from the convenience of home and print out my ticket and boarding pass. Some airlines now charge you to ask a question of a real person! The report also touts another reason for retailers to use self-service technology – the reduction of theft (called shrink in their terminology):
“Removing the cashier from the checkout equation and implementing self checkout lanes has considerable potential to reduce shrink, if the lanes are deployed using best practices.”
I wonder about this. When the MBTA introduced the Charlie Card system to replace subway tokens a couple of years ago, part of its reasoning was to improve fare collection. I have not seen any reports in the news on whether this has been accomplished. Are the revenues up since the implementation of the Charlie Card?
I do know that since the introduction of the CC, T stations are often staffed by a single person and that in virtually every station I frequent, there have been times when no live person was around to answer questions or assist a patron in loading money unto a Charlie Card or ticket. As well, I’ve seen bus drivers who were running late wave people onto buses without them tapping their cards or inserting their tickets – so much for collecting all fares. (In poorer communities, people using cash because they don’t have the wherewithal to buy a monthly or even weekly pass, slow down the travel time considerably as the driver waits for people to put their dollars and coins into the fare box. Customer service down; travel time increased.)
Having started down this road, there is no turning back. Actual customer service is beginning to be treated like a luxury rather than part of the shopping experience. An article, “Self-checkout could eliminate sales aisles” states:
“Today it is about two-thirds (traditional)/one-third (self-checkout) … in most stores,” (Bruce) Kopp said. “More and more companies are moving to having fewer actual cashiers. You are always going to need a few because things come up and … there are some people who just don’t like self-checkout … but I do think you are going to see self-checkout becoming the dominant front-end mechanism in retail.”
Remember customer service?
I go shopping for the experience. I like having live people greet me, answer my questions, make suggestions on purchases, etc. I like store displays. If I didn’t want the human interaction, why go into a store at all? While I do make some purchases online, the online shopping experience is not a substitute for a live shopping experience where I can see and touch the merchandise.
Being that I lean toward solitude, I worry that I am increasingly able to avoid interaction with other human beings, particularly ones I don’t know. I have met wonderful people and had delightful experiences interacting in stores.
One last technology complaint for now – the Kindle and other ereaders. While I can see the convenience of these devices, they do eliminate the ability to connect that printed books provide. I have met friends and gotten dates because of a book I or they were reading. When someone is reading on a Kindle, there’s no way of seeing what they are reading and making an instant connection with them and an opportunity to connect in real time, face-to-face is loss.
Self-Service – in other words, buy our merchandise and serve yourself.
- Check yourself in, check yourself out.
- Create your own ads.
- Find your own information.
- Question not outside the information boundaries that have been pre-determined for you.
- Go to our website.
Robot, robot, I-robot.
Oh, well, perhaps I’m just an anachronism. But I will not go gently into the technologically barren landscape being daily created for us minions. I’m kicking and screaming all the way!
If you liked this post, you may also like:
Why I still read the paper, paper
In praise of paper books
I agree with everything you’ve said in this blog. I refuse to use the self-service technology also. It does eliminate jobs that people need. If most things are self-service what will people be doing to earn money to buy items marketed in the self-service venue. To paraphrase my brother, when did you ever see a computer walk into a store and buy a loaf of bread!
This post makes some interesting observations. You are absolutely right, retailers have introduced self-service technologies and very few of us consumers are paying attention to the consequences because these technologies feed into most people’s impatience and their need to be “in control.” I was first bitten by the self-service bug at Stop & Shop. The idea of having to wait in a cashier line was quickly supplanted by the notion that I can do this myself so much faster–the faster is merely an illusion since I was so engrossed in doing the cashier’s job that I didn’t notice how much of my time I was actually using. Naturally when these self-service technologies are presented to retailers it is always with the idea of “displacing a function” thereby freeing up the person (formerly known as Cashier/bagger) to potentially take on another task that has had to be tabled for lack of resources. How often do you think that really happens? So essentially I have volunteered to “work” for the retailer as cashier/bagger. And as you point out, the airlines are another culprit of self-service technology that definitely has not saved the consumer. I get the privilege of checking myself in, printing my boarding pass, and charging the bag check-in fee to my credit card myself. Not to mention schlepping your own bags to x-ray and hoisting them up on the scales to be tagged. And you’re right; I haven’t seen or heard of any savings to me because of my service to these retailer or airlines. The alarm clock is sounding; it is time to wake-up to what is happening to others around us.
What a thoughtful and well-written and reasoned response. Thank you.
Amen, sister! You got exactly what I was trying to say. It’s good to know from the comments I’m getting, that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Thanks for taking time to leave a comment.
The redesign that just occurred at 2 of the walmarts I frequent took out all of their self checkouts. They added extra 20 items or less lanes back in that are staffed by people! Kindles etc… I have loved reading my whole life and nothing, NOTHING, can take the place of the feel of an actual book in my hand!!
Good for Walmart! Thanks for sharing a story about a store going in the other direction.
I’m with you regarding paper books and have blogged about this in the past. Be well and thanks for reading my blog.
You make so many good points! When there is a choice, which is happening less and less, I hope that more of us will go to the cashier and show our preference for people. And I agree with you about the Kindle and other similar devices. There’s nothing like the feel of a real book.