Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self-Checkout




[This piece was rejected by - I kid you not - sixteen different newspapers. I think the reason was because I named a specific supermarket that advertises in each of those newspapers. At least, that's what I tell myself in order to stay sane. If I entertain the thought that it's just crummy writing to which they were objecting, I may as well go flip burgers. Ego is important when one is an artist, even if the initials B. S. are sometimes a prefix to "artist". Anyway, here you go. And if you're one of those sixteen editors, God bless you for leaving me the conjecture.]


I usually do the grocery shopping for my family. I don't mind. MY WIFE works a regular Monday-to-Friday 40-hour week, while I'm a catch-as-catch-can freelancer. She deserves the ability to sleep in and I don't mind getting up early on Saturday.

What I do mind is the move being made to eliminate humans at the checkout.

For instance, at my local Stop & Shop there is now ONE line open on Saturday morning staffed with an actual person. Four or five self-checkouts are open. In addition, they have stationed the human being at the very end of all the checkouts available, making it possible that shoppers approaching from one end of the store may not even be aware of the opportunity to choose a personal touch over a robotic and cold machine.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against progress in general. If self-checkout were an improvement, I wouldn't be totally averse to it. I'm all for speeding things up when nothing good is sacrificed along the way. For instance, I don't mind filling my own tank at a gas station. It usually results in my getting back on the road faster than in the days when uniformed attendants did the job. In this case, though, not only does the do-it-yourself checkout process take longer, but it will (likely, already has) cost employees their jobs.

I have to assume the folks at Stop & Shop have been making the move to self-checkout because it is cost effective. The machines, after amortizing the initial cost, will probably save them a decent amount of money.

There are, however, other considerations. We're talking about people here; people with whom I've dealt on at least a weekly basis. I've gotten to know them a bit, had pleasant conversations, discussed their – and my – troubles. If it's a matter of the company either surviving or going out of business, that's one thing. If, however, we're talking about the choice between making a profit or making a bigger profit, then I think faithful employees deserve more than an unemployment check and faithful customers deserve more than inferior service.

Well, according to an industry news source, Supermarket News, fourth-quarter income rose 15% for Stop & Shop, to $238 million, in 2014. Full-year operating income was $869 million. Sales for the year were up 4.6%, to $17.9 billion. These were reported as “profit gains”.[1]

I can't tell you for sure how much the nice women working the checkout counter receive for doing that job, nor can I say with certainty what, say, an elderly gentleman bagging groceries gets per hour, but I'm willing to bet subtracting it from those figures wouldn't make a dent anyone other than a heartless bean counter would notice. That's just a guess on my part, of course, but one made with the sure knowledge that the company wasn't losing money all of those years when just humans did the checking out.

One thing I can promise Stop & Shop: If I come in there some Saturday and all the humans are missing from the checkout counters, I'll be missing from your store the following Saturday. Maybe my $5000 of business each year is just a drop in your bucket, but it's more than you'll have proven willing to pay some poor soul in your employ.


[1]    http://supermarketnews.com/latest-news/stop-shop-posts-q4-profit-gains

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Soon, with more better stuff (which I do not append to my newspaper pieces, so that isn't why it was rejected, wise guy.)

 

14 comments:

messymimi said...

This is good stuff. The newspapers can't afford to publish it for the reason you cited, i'm sure.

As for self checkout, if i only have an item or two, it's fine, as long as the machine doesn't mess up. Which it often does. When i'm going big shopping, there's no way i can do it all myself, and i agree i'd rather see Miss Betty or Miss Grace (checkers i know and like).

joeh said...

I suspect a lot of people prefer the self checkout. I hate it and will not use it. I don't even like to pump my own gas (love New Jersey.)

A lot of stores are getting ripped off by these machines. Crooks putting old price bars from cheaper items on more expensive items and checking out.

joeh said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135284/How-cheating-checkouts-turning-nation-self-service-shoplifters.html

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

I think maybe when I visited Michigan they had self checkout there.
None of the supermarkets here has it... yet.

OldAFSarge said...

I use it when the human lines are too crowded and I only have a few items. We do most of our grocery shopping on base at the commissary, where they still have humans, exclusively. For now.

Jeni said...

I loathe, hate and abhor the few occasions when I have basically been forced to use the self-checkout at (dare I say this?) the evil Walmart! I get virtually all the meat products I buy at a small local grocery store and a few other items that are either on sale that week or are priced comparably to Walmart. But for larger things -like my treasured product -coffee - no way am I paying $14 for a 29 oz can (the supposed equivalent to the old 3 pound can) at the local store when I can get my favorite brand of a dark roast at Walmart for half that price! I generally make one run a month to Walmart for the larger items on my grocery list or to pick up prescriptions as I do use Walmart's pharmacy service there. But I would be willing to bet my entire social security check that this move to self-serve is a cost efficient thing -kind of akin to the airline move to eliminate olives from being served to people getting meals on a flight! (I forget which airline it was that it was posted somewhere that they saved a kazillion bucks by eliminating that little item. Damn the bean counters anyway!)

Jenny Woolf said...

Sounds too socialist for them perhaps. Maybe profit is a god for these supermarkets and they need to placate their advertisers. I think it's a good piece saying something that needs saying.

Shammickite said...

My local small town supermarkets still employ real life people to check out my groceries, but I know the bigger stores use self checkout stations. Remember the good old days before bar codes, when each cashier knew the price of every item in the store?
I like your article, says a lot that should be said.

Craig said...

Self-checkout (or, as it is commonly known, U-scan) is virtually ubiquitous in Michigan, altho I have to say that, at least at the stores I generally frequent, it doesn't seem to correlate with a dearth of regular checkers; it's more of a convenience thing, to have more of the '12-items-or-less' lanes. On a typical Saturday morning (like you, I do my portion of the shopping then), there will be 10-15 regular lanes open, and two banks of U-scan at either end, with one or two clerks attending 6-8 U-scans at each.

If I have just a few items, I'll usually use the U-scan, but there are some things that don't work well in the U-scan, so I'll use the regular checkout lanes.

Mich said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Stop & Shop is my fav supermarket, but I HATE their self checkout machines. Half the time things don't scan properly, or the machine refuses to read a coupon, and then I'm stuck there looking like an idiot for the next 15 minutes because there is nary a cashier in sight to help me.

The Broad said...

I am sure you are right about why your splendid article has not been published. Hope you forward a copy to Stop and Shop along with the comments. ..

Daryl said...

may i say i totally hate those self check outs ... the local CVS has them and there is an actual person who sees customers approaching the peopled check out(yup, just one person/cashier) and herds us to the automated check out and when i say i don't like these, the herder does it for me .. ridiculous ... as was the rejection this article received

It's.a.crazy.world said...

As awful as self check out's are, I do use them when I only have 10-20 items. Which is what I think they should be for, to allow shoppers an opportunity to hurry on through. I truly detest those who have done an entire week's worth of shopping using the self check out. Perhaps they are bagging organics and using the non-organic codes for their oranges. Or maybe they are simply anti-social, and prefer not to interact with others unless they absolutely have to. But, they are here to stay. So, I like to use the regular check out lanes (even if I have to wait) as a "so there!" moment to management.

Michelle H. said...

I've done the self-checkout. I'm not totally against it. But I'm not a fan either....