The move to retail automation amazes me – its impact is so unpredictable.
The most recent kerfuffle relates to claims by Shoppers Drug Mart cashiers that they’ve been made to pressure customers into using self-checkout stations rather than traditional cashiers. Cashiers claim (probably correctly) that stores are encouraging self-checkout to reduce the number of cashiers needed in store. You can read about it here.
Where will it lead?
I have no doubt that the use of self-checkout at grocery stores will increase in the future, but will it lead to the near elimination of cashier jobs? That’s hard to say. When ATMs started breeding like rabbits in the 1980s, the loss of bank teller jobs seemed almost a certainty. While there have been some branch closures and job losses, there are still thousands of branches across the country. Go into any one and the human touch is alive and well, even with online banking at our fingertips.
Contrast that with the move to self-serve gas stations. Even though a couple of cities in British Columbia (Coquitlam and Richmond) still ban self-serve gas, more than 90% of automobile gas sold in Canada today is self-serve. Most of us never think twice about it – we just pump our own. A lot of gas attendant jobs have gone by the wayside.
Prediction – a niche only for grocery self-checkout
In London, England, I went to a 24-hour Tesco grocery store recently that had no cashiers on the overnight shift. The store had just one attendant at the front whose job was to help people navigate the self-checkout machines. That’s a use that makes sense. If you want the convenience of shopping overnight, you’ll need to do a bit of work yourself at the end. I can definitely see that trend carrying on in Canada.
But my best guess is that grocery self-checkout will remain a niche offering. Bricks and mortar retailers need to differentiate themselves from their online cousins, and the personal touch is a key way to do that. I think many people will do what I do – use the self-checkout only when the line at regular cashiers looks too long.
And who wants to make that impulsive scratch & win lotto ticket purchase from a machine anyways?
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull