One of my occasional stops on the walk from work to the subway is a CVS drugstore in downtown Boston. Over the past few months, CVS has been installing more self-service checkout counters at this outlet, whereby the customers electronically ring up their purchases and provide payment, without the help of a cashier. A CVS employee hovers around the self-service counters to help out the befuddled, such as me.
Recently I walked in the store and was stunned to see that most of the “regular” checkout counters had been replaced with the self-service variety. At this CVS store, you’d better be prepared to check your own purchases, or possibly wait in a longer line for a human cashier.
From low-paying jobs to no jobs
For customers, this may be a hassle or inconvenience, but the most serious impact is the loss of jobs. I’m guessing that those cashier jobs did not morph into other positions within the company — and even if they did, they’ll disappear via attrition. CVS isn’t doing this out of a love of gadgetry: Automating the cashier position means you can cut payroll.
During the past four decades, America has lost countless of its higher-paying jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors. However, one of the primary growth areas of the labor market has been low-paying retail sector work. Now we’re seeing how even those jobs can be rendered obsolete, or at least less necessary.
Indeed, when we customers serve as our own cashiers, we become involuntary accomplices to eliminating yet another route to employment. And while these may not be the greatest jobs in the world, they are sources of income, especially for younger workers entering the workforce and workers of all ages who may lack advanced training and skills.