We live in an age where you can walk into a store, grab a few items, and pay without having to interact with another human being. Incredible as it sounds, self-checkout has its enemies. Let me tell you why it’s great.
Looking online, you might think that everyone hates self-checkout. In fact, that is literally what some headlines claim. The hassles with self-checkout are well documented. I’m here to defend the humble self-checkout machine and perhaps provide a point of view you haven’t heard.
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New technology is held to unfair standards
People tend to resist new technologies if they are not perfect. For example, one problem with LED traffic lights is that they don’t get hot enough to melt snow, sometimes causing the lights to be covered during snowstorms. This problem has prevented the adoption of LED traffic lights in some areas.
the youtube channel technology connections He has an excellent video on this topic. As Alec says, LED traffic lights are more energy efficient, cost less to operate, require less maintenance, are more capable of running on battery backup, last longer, and are easier to see, but sometimes are covered in snow. So some people don’t think we should make the change.
The new problems introduced by the new technology should not outweigh the existing problems of the older technology. Snow melting is not a “feature” of glowing traffic lights; it’s a byproduct of being terribly inefficient. We should focus on solutions to new problems, which exist, instead of continuing to live with problems in the old ways that we have come to accept.
Self-checkout machines are not perfect. I too have had my fair share of bad experiences with them. However, there are clear advantages over human tellers, and the new annoyances they’ve introduced shouldn’t cloud that.
The case of self-checkout
Despite what the internet says, there are plenty of people out there who love self-checkout. I prefer it and often see more people in line for self checkout than cashiers. Why is that?
First of all, self-checkout is best when you don’t have a lot of items. This is really what self-checkout is meant for in most situations. I love being able to grab some items at Target and scan them myself. It’s much faster than waiting for a cashier to scan them for me.
Paying at a grocery store is not like ordering coffee. I wouldn’t be able to make a latte as well as the barista, but I’m fully capable of scanning barcodes, putting items in bags, and using a credit card reader. It makes more sense to do it myself and involve someone else if I need help, rather than forever have an intermediary in the process.
Self-checkout also allows for more checkout lines in stores, which can greatly improve how quickly people get in and out. Most grocery stores can fit up to six self-checkout machines in the space that would normally take up one or two human checkout lanes.
Overall, I prefer self-checkout because it feels like a more seamless experience. There are fewer obstacles and interactions between finding the items I need and leaving the store. Yes, self-checkout doesn’t always go smoothly, but I don’t discount all positive experiences because of those “sometimes” experiences.
What about jobs?
We cannot talk about this topic without mentioning one of the biggest concerns: employment. People say self-checkout machines kill jobs, and that’s a common complaint for any machine that can replicate the work of a human. Is this true for self checkout and should we care?
Teller jobs are expected to decline about 10% in the next decade, but new jobs are being created. First, someone needs to fix those self-checkout machines when they inevitably misbehave. However, those jobs are not a one-to-one replacement, as they require a completely different skill set.
A better comparison is curbside pickup and delivery. Today, it is common for grocery stores to have employees who fulfill curbside pickup orders. Those jobs would likely have been cashiers in the past. There are also fleets of Instacart and Shipt drivers making deliveries, but it’s harder to rely on “gig economy” jobs for a steady income.
One important thing to consider is the quality of the cashier jobs. According to the US Census Bureau, cashiers were among the lowest-paid members of the retail workforce. Also, they often have limited hours, so they are not eligible for benefits. It seems that grocery stores aren’t too keen on paying cashiers, which is arguably a bigger problem than self-checkout machines.
We should aim for a society where we don’t pay people undignified wages to do work that can be done by a machine. Admittedly, it’s a bumpy road to get there. People need money to survive and sometimes you can’t afford to find a better job. It’s a lose/lose situation, unfortunately.
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Self checkout is here to stay
For better or worse, self-checkout is here to stay. We will only see more self-checkout lanes in supermarkets and kiosks in fast food restaurants. Like mobile payments, the experience is improving, slowly but surely.
As mentioned, self-checkout is usually meant for less than 15 items, but I’ve noticed more self-checkout machines for more items. Some stores now have self-checkout machines with conveyor belts and handheld scanners. Also, I have found that alerts to place items in the bagging area are much less frequent than they used to be.
Besides, if your main annoyance with self-checkout is the obvious cameras on your face, well, I’ve got news for you: You won’t go anywhere in a grocery store without a camera.
Self-checkout machines are a modern convenience. Sure, they’re not perfect, but neither is the smartphone in your pocket. The future is never as clean and perfect as we imagine it to be. Amazing advances in technology always come with their own new set of problems. The humble self-checkout machine is no different.
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