Preserving jobs and customer sanity: Retailers reversing course on self-service checkout lanes

Last year I wrote a bit of a rant about a local CVS drugstore replacing most of their staffed checkout lanes with automated ones. I confess that my initial irritation was due to the hassle of fumbling around with the self-service machines, but I also saw how this less-than-inspired move eliminated jobs:

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.

…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.

Reversing course?

Stephanie Reitz, reporting for the Associated Press via Yahoo! News (link here), writes that retail America’s transition to self-serve checkout lanes may be going in reverse:

Big Y Foods, which has 61 locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, recently became one of the latest to announce it was phasing out the self-serve lanes. Some other regional chains and major players, including some Albertsons locations, have also reduced their unstaffed lanes and added more clerks to traditional lanes.

…An internal study by Big Y found delays in its self-service lines caused by customer confusion over coupons, payments and other problems; intentional and accidental theft, including misidentifying produce and baked goods as less-expensive varieties; and other problems that helped guide its decision to bag the self-serve lanes.

Let’s not forget that jobs are at stake here. For some, that low paying retail gig may be the only buffer between being poor and very poor, a source of income in a difficult job market. For young folks possibly headed to college, trade school, or a higher-paying vocation, that job is where they can learn a work ethic and hone their interpersonal skills.

In doing these jobs, they provide a service, not the least of which is saving customers like me from going ballistic when some computerized machine tells me to place an item in the bag correctly before it allows me to scan the next one.

2 responses

  1. I’m grateful to see them go, too. Occasionally, when checkout lines get ridiculous and I don’t have a lot, I occasionally disregard the error messages of my previous attempts. That’s when I learn, as I did the other day, that the ordinary Macintosh is not depicted under the produce-list “Apple”. Rather, I saw the organic, jumbo Red Delicious apple, complete with higher price. Self-check lists tend to omit the common varieties and forms, which is counterintuitive, to put it charitably. … The corollary to that phenomenon is mismarked tags on shelfs’ front edges. My latest encounter was a long row of six-ounce blueberry boxes (measured in volume, a.k.a., three-fourths of a cup). The whole shelf displayed a series of identical pint-box tags priced as $4.95. At the register, I found it was actually $3.95; luckily, I’d noticed that the box held only 6 oz., and watched to see if, pro rated, I was to pay $1.85. Ask about such tag-versus-product discrepancies, and you’ll hear that the store ran out of the pint box, of the half-price 64-oz. Tropicana carton, etc. Why is it okay that the store swaps in other products, yet retains the tags implying a fair deal? Must we start comparing all the shelf-edge tags to “their” products, to be sure we’re not misled? I sure miss the days when a store had to give you the product for free if it rang in higher than the price on the shelf. And back then, a store would do something to cover the “not pints” contingency — apologize, even!

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