As I scroll through social media recently I’ve been seeing more and more images like the one you see above. The self checkout kiosk. Sometimes there’s just a caption, other times there’s a story that goes along with it, but every time there seems to be a common theme. People are fighting back against the self checkout machine. They talk about how it’s stealing jobs, or how they never work, or how the only ones who benefit the corporations that own the machine and the store itself. What about the employees? Why would you support losing jobs?
From a job stealing standpoint I completely understand where that argument could hold some water. For every kiosk it could mean one less cashier get to keep their job. Since there’s only so many positions that can be filled at a grocery store, department store, or anywhere for that matter, it makes sense that we don’t want to eliminate someone’s job in favor of a machine. The movement to protect the low level worker lately is definitely one I can get behind. Of all people, I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. Creating more jobs is always something I’ll support.
The same people who want to save the jobs are the ones that complain the machines never work or don’t work properly. That’s interesting to me because they were just talking about the kiosks stealing jobs, but then saying the kiosks never work. Are they saying it would be ok to steal the job if the machine worked properly? Anyway, sometimes the kiosks do have technical errors or computer issues and then basically shut down. A lot of times the machine isn’t working properly because of human error. It’s like tablets, laptops, and PCs. People hit them and complain about their “stupid computer” until someone who knows what they’re doing comes along and then everything works fine. Human error is often the most overlooked error by the individual complaining that something isn’t working. In reality, the self checkout kiosks have an outstanding reliability rating.
What’s the point of this blog? Like most of my blog entries I don’t know if there is one. My thoughts on the self checkout kiosks have changed over the years. When they first made their way on to the floor I was extremely skeptical. I was shaking my fist at the “powers that be” and complaining about them stealing jobs from the poor high school kids and the elderly. As time went on I began to change my thinking. Primarily for three reasons from what I can tell. As far as the reasons being good, that I’m not sure on. Regardless, they’re my reasons and you’re welcome to disagree.
The place I use the kiosks most is my local grocery store. Not every time I shop, but if I stop for lunch or a to pick up 2 or 3 items I definitely use it. In the area where I work it’s a smaller community. It’s not a big city that creates a constant flow of customers where the grocery store needs to be staffed to capacity every day. During the working hours the store is slow to moderately busy so there’s typically two cashiers on duty. I run in to grab something off of the hot lunch area or salad bar. I can’t tell you how many times before the self checkout kiosks I would have to stand in line, sometimes for up to 10 minutes, just to check out my 2 or 3 items. If you get caught behind an old lady with a cart full of groceries or the frugal mom who has 58 coupons and then has questions on why one of her coupons that saves her 25 cents isn’t working you could be there for a while. My hot lunch has now become my cold lunch and my quick stop has now cost me half of my lunch hour. The express lines aren’t open during the day due to the lack of customer volume. Then the self checkout kiosks came along. I can whip through and pay before the old lady in line has her first bag full of groceries. From a convenience standpoint it’s a huge win for the kiosk. I don’t really eat fast food, but I’ve had some friends use similar kiosks at fast food restaurants. Guess what? Their order was correct and they didn’t have to repeat things 20 times to get the right order. Back to the grocery store example. When I do my regular shopping for my weekly groceries I’m more than happy to make sure the cashier and bag person stay employed.
Another reason that I don’t mind the self checkout kiosk is because of the $15 per hour minimum wage movement. $7.25 may be a little low, but $15 is far too high. I’m not going to get in to all of the arguments about minimum wage right now. We can save that for another post down the road. My point is going to be very clear and very insulting when it comes to the minimum wage aspect in this instance. The self checkout kiosk proves that you do not deserve $15 per hour to work as an entry level cashier. Any individual can come in off the street with absolutely no training and spend a few minutes to learn the machine and then check themselves out. That doesn’t deserve $15 per hour. Granted we’re only checking out up to 10 items. Not 150 items like people on a big shopping trip, but still, it’s scanning and sending the items down the conveyor to the individual who bags the items. A common argument from cashiers is that it’s more than just scanning items, it’s the customer service that’s provided.
Welcome to reason number three! Apparently it’s not a requirement to be friendly when being a cashier. I will say this is not the majority of cases, but it’s enough that it is a reason for me to avoid dealing with a human. There’s two issues I have when it comes to cashiers at stores. It seems like cashiers either hate their life and everyone they encounter. Or they want to ask you details about the things you’re purchasing. These are my two main pet peeves when it comes to dealing with cashiers. Those of you who are friendly, get the items scanned through, and smile are doing a great job. I don’t have a problem there, but the risk is too great for me. If I’m having a decent day and the cashier isn’t then that person could bring down my day. I know how it goes. I deal with the general public every single day. It can definitely break a person down. There’s times where I go to the kiosk because I know I’m having a bad day. I don’t want to bring the cashier down so I avoid human contact.
One of the ways to save the employment of some of these individuals may be through restructuring their role in the store. Usually when I visit my local grocery store the shelves are in order and everything looks clean. The last time I was there I was shocked to see how disorganized some of the shelves were and how much trash there was on the floors. Maybe one of the leftover cashiers could be on floor duty and walk the store and make sure everything is in order and there’s no paper shrapnel on the floor. They can look for confused faces on customers and ask if they need help with anything. When they get caught up with all of that they can head over to the entrance and welcome guest in to the store and hand them a weekly coupon flyer. I don’t want the cashier to be out of work. They can still hold value in the store. If the cashiers get on a rotating schedule between cashiering and being a floor person then their job holds much more value. Customers like feeling welcomed when they come to a store. Customers like having a knowledgeable person help them look for something. I don’t think anyone knows the location of everything in the store better than a cashier. The stock boys don’t know where stuff is. I can attest to that because I’ve had them “help” me look for stuff before. We basically walked up and down every aisle until we found it. Thanks, man, could have done that on my own. So, please, don’t get rid of the cashier. Re-purpose the ones who may be displaced by the self checkout kiosk. There is a ton of value in having an aesthetic and customer service rep wandering the store every day, believe me.
The self checkout kiosks are here to stay. I’m happy about that. My hope is that the larger grocery stores will start to make the grocery shopping experience more user friendly, and just more friendly in general, for the consumer. There are a lot of great cashiers that I don’t want to see out of work. If they are a great cashier that means they have the personality to have positive interactions with customers and the stores need to start capitalizing on the talent they have in house. Kiosks don’t have to equate to the loss of jobs. They should be just another tool to make the shopping experience as pleasant as possible.