Tuesday, April 28, 2015
[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”.
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.
Soon, with more better stuff (which I do not append to my newspaper pieces, so that isn't why it was rejected, wise guy.)