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!
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