From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.
Some people are unhappy with the growing number of retailers getting rid of self-checkouts. I am not.
Self-checkouts don’t pay income tax. They don’t contribute to social insurance plans and pensions. They don’t earn wages for people to buy groceries to take home to their families.
Self-checkouts eliminate jobs and the good things that jobs give us.
Also, they symbolize a trend that is corrupting our lives. That’s the trend to do things faster – hurry to where you are going; hurry to get things done. Hurry, hurry, hurry.
There’s even a name for it: Hurry Sickness or Hurry Syndrome. It is a sickness because it creates irritability with anything or anyone that slows things down. It can damage your health and relationships with family and friends.
You see it more and more these days, notably on the highways. Impatient drivers passing cars on hills and curves, ignoring the blind spots where another vehicle could be coming straight at them.
You see it on the streets and in the shopping malls.
One of my daughters and her husband were subjected to someone’s impatience at a retail store on Remembrance Day. They were at a staffed checkout when the clock struck 11 a.m. and they stopped putting their goods on the conveyor belt and stood heads down for a minute of silence.
An angry customer yelled at them to get moving because they were holding up the customer line. Imagine, slowing everything down just to remember those who sacrificed their lives for us!
A growing number of customers are unhappy with self-checkouts. That customer backlash, plus concerns about mechanical issues and theft, have some major retailers rethinking self-checkouts.
Booths, major United Kingdom grocery chain, is removing most of its self-checkouts. Costco, Walmart and some other big American chains have been considering reducing their number of self-checkouts.
“Our customers have told us this over time — that the self-scan machines that we’ve got in our stores … can be slow, they can be unreliable (and) they’re obviously impersonal,” Booths managing director Nigel Murray said in a BBC interview.
Self-service machines were first introduced during the 1980s to lower labor expenses. They shifted the work of paid employees to unpaid customers and their use expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides mechanical issues and customer complaints, retailers with self-service machines are seeing higher merchandise losses from customer errors and intentional shoplifting.
Last year a study of 93 retailers across the globe estimated that 23 per-cent their store losses were related to self-checkouts. An earlier study found that self-service lanes had a loss rate for four per-cent, more than double the industry average for loss.
Glitches in self-checkout systems can tempt people to cheat. Some products have barcodes that don’t scan properly and a customer simply bags the item without bothering to confirm it scanned. Or, a customer might type in a wrong code by mistake and not bother to rescan the item at the proper price.
Some self-checkout theft is deliberate. For instance customers have been known to take the sticker off a cheaper item and place it over one that is more expensive.
For instance, there is the banana trick in which you take the $2 tag off a banana and place it over the $17.99-a-pound steak.
There is no question that self-checkouts can be convenient and save time. Retailers have been working on ways to reduce annoying glitches and to reduce theft.
One thing they will not reduce, however, is the fact that self-checkouts are taking away jobs. There is concern that getting your groceries through self-checkouts will spread to other items.
Imagine seeing a car you like and being satisfied with its options and price, so you simply scan the windshield sticker, write a cheque and drive off. No sales staff required.
That’s not an impossibility.
Despite its problems, self-checkout is expected to become the norm. Industry insiders have estimated that the global self-service checkout market will almost double to $5.9 billion by 2026.
One example: Ontario car buyers no longer have to go to a Service Ontario office to register a vehicle. Car dealers now can register vehicles online, and issue ownership permits and licence plates to buyers on the spot.