Self-checkout lanes have taken over at stores and made customers cashiers
Published 10:54 am Friday, December 2, 2022
Self-checkout lanes have been around for a long time — but not as many of them. In the beginning they were largely ignored by customers, and were mostly for express-lane shoppers who had fewer items… Now they are being pushed by stores as there are fewer and fewer cashiers and baggers. Post-pandemic, the number of cashiers in many grocery stores and big box stores has decreased significantly while the number of self-checkout lanes has increased. A lot of customers have, therefore, been pushed to the self-checkout lanes if only to avoid the 15 or 20 minute lines. It’s not just for express shoppers anymore, either. Customers have begun to go through self-checkout lines with full carts of merchandise.
Many customers have strong feelings about this, although opinions are divided. Many hate it because they’d prefer not to do the work themselves, they want to support retail jobs. And, if you get caught behind someone who has no idea how to use the self-checkout register, it can be beyond frustrating.
On the other hand, while one might assume that some of the savings are passed on to customers, the frequency with which people steal from self-checkout lines probably offsets those savings while decreasing the number of available jobs. While many of those jobs are exhausting and low-wage, they can offer room for advancement for some folks who might not otherwise have paths toward jobs in management. On the other hand, many stores have moved to self-checkout lines out of necessity because, in a tight labor market, they can’t fill many of their cashier positions anyway.
Despite self-checkout’s many shortcomings for customers and store owners, the trend is only growing. It may simply be too late for stores to go back to cashiers and baggers.
Stores today are catering to shoppers who perceive self-checkout to be faster than traditional cashiers, even though there’s little evidence to support that. But, because customers are doing the work, rather than waiting in line, the experience can feel like it’s moving more quickly.
Store owners have also seen competitors installing self-checkouts and determined they don’t want to miss out.
COVID-19 has also hastened the spread of self-checkout.
During the pandemic, many customers opted for self-service to avoid close interactions with cashiers and baggers. And challenges hiring and retaining workers have led stores to rely on the machines more heavily to get customers through the door.
Today, we are so accustomed to perusing the aisles and carting around our own groceries that we would never think to complain about “being forced to do someone else’s job.” And yet, customers exert much more time and energy walking around the supermarket and grabbing things off the shelves than they do checking out.
Be that as it may, in the vast majority of stores customers can still choose to have their purchases scanned and bagged by a cashier. After all, no one is actually forced to use the self-checkout, despite the overzealous rhetoric.
Self-checkouts are not something new. Remember when gas station attendants were removed, and drivers had to fill up their own tanks with gasoline.
That’s not to say there wouldn’t be more cashier jobs if self-checkouts had never been invented; surely there would be. But they are certainly not about to make the occupation obsolete any time soon.
On the contrary, the biggest threats to the future of cashier jobs are online shopping. To what extent these technologies will replace the traditional retail store remains to be seem, but it’s fair to say that the need for human cashiers will be diminished as time goes on.
It means that if you shop, you must learn to check out your purchases and bag them.
The great thing about the free market is that it doesn’t force everyone into one-size-fits-all products.