New (unpaid) job title at CVS: Customer/cashier

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.

9 responses

  1. Great observation and comment, David. The very few who are the decision makers continue to place profit ahead of corporate interrelatedness. This kind of spiral heads downward. Instead of helping to create jobs, CVS is downsizing. Well, at least it is just one (very large)company. It’s the mindset of the business interests that is mindboggling to me.

  2. David,
    You are completely accurate when you say this kind of automation is killing jobs. I have noticed that sometimes businesses stop using these self help checkouts when customers refuse to use them. It is difficult because when they install the machines they cut down on checkers; but persistence can wear them down. I am happy that my CVS hasn’t done this.

  3. Pingback: New (unpaid) job title at CVS: Customer/cashier (via Minding the Workplace) « Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

  4. I agree with the comment about not using the self-service machines and also suggest speaking to the manager about this. Low paying jobs are still jobs and it seems a particularly cruel act in this economic environment to eliminate jobs in this way. And, needless to say, the self-service machines do not do the work as well as a live clerk. This is one small thing that individuals can do to make a difference. Thank you.

  5. I hate the new CVS policy of using express check out counters. I came across this just the other day. I go to cvs regulary for my meds and to pick quite a few items during the week. Mainly because I am lazy. When i came across this I wasn’t using the pharmacy that day, I was purchasing milk, cereal, cat food, deordorant, all of which would be cheaper elsewhere. When I realized I had to check it out myself I simply left it there and walked out. So this weekend, I went to costco to stock up on staples which will keep me from having to shop for incidentals like toothpaste etc. I do not, will not shop there any more. Sometimes i come home from work and my body is in pain from arthritis, am i going to hobble around the store and check my purchases out myself? Nope. The people who spend the most are probably baby boomers. We are going to need more services as we age, not less. Also, when i come in the store for meds when i have a cold or whatever, i am not going to be in the mood for checking out my own purchases.

    I am going to transfer my medication to a nearby family owned pharmacy. It is the principal. I happen to like my pharmacy at CVS, but it is going to piss me off to think of all the jobs that have been eliminated. I hope this experiment fails, so that other corporations will be wary of adopting this. It is very important for people to let corporations know that we are not going to be both the customer and the worker for them.

    • I hope that a lot more people will find ways to make their objections known. Thanks for explaining your own response in such detail!

  6. I go into that same Downtown Boston CVS occasionally, but when I do I refuse to assist CVS in eliminating while claiming the automation is for my “conveninece”. But now I won’t go in there again. A hovering employee, a manager perhaps, insisted I use the automated checkout and helped me with the transaction. When I explained why it was a principle for me not to used the automated checkout, she claimed no jobs were being eliminated by this automation and “couldn’t understand why everyone thinks this”, in her words. My reply: “They probably think that because it’s true.” Now that my intelligence has been insulted by a lie, I won’t be visiting at least that CVS anymore.

  7. My reply above is missing text: The full sentence as I wrote it is: I go into that same Downtown Boston CVS occasionally, but when I do I refuse to assist CVS in eliminating jobs by making me do the work of checking myself out while cliaming the automation is for my “convenience”. I hope no one is fooled by any claim by CVS that “no jobs are being eliminated”. For what other reason would they invest in this automation?

  8. I also had this issue in Queens New York. Hillside and 127 street. When I made an issue of it I was told by the hoverer “talking to me is like talking to a loaf of bread” and that I insulted him by stating I would not shop there anymore. CVS needs to abandon this method of operation and apologize to its “valued” customers for the insult and smack in the face it is.

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