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Check it out for yourself

By John J. Tassoni, Jr.

There is no doubt that technology has advanced just about every aspect of our lives from instant messaging, email and texts, ATMs that dispense cash 24 hours a day, and mobile phones that are at our fingertips every minute of the day.

But for every automated appliance or system that makes performing a task easier and immediate, there is an underlying effect that can be detrimental to the workforce.

New user-facing technology adopted by a company or institution for the ostensible reason of minimizing labor and cutting costs is at the core. No one likes pressing buttons through an interminable phone menu to check on a payment, make an appointment, or inquire about goods and services, when they would much rather speak to an actual customer service representative. But we have no choice when a corporation decides that the inconvenience and annoyance to the user is worth the savings in labor costs.

Self-service checkouts are the biggest culprits.

According to the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR) each self-checkout lane costs about $30,000 each, and is expected to pay for itself within 12-18 months, and can save a business up to $225,000 a year.*

The cost savings, of course, comes from automating people out of work.

Self-checkouts replace cashiers with machines; monitoring robots replace stock people and store security; online shopping reduces a store’s hours of operation or makes them close completely; and with these, customer service ceases to exist.

As a result, there is increased customer dissatisfaction and reduced consumer loyalty. Pilfering is at an all-time high because it is very easy to slip an item or two into the bag without scanning it. To offset the high cost of implementing the technology and accounting for the theft, the cost of goods and services increases.

All of this automation begs the question: do people really want to scan their own purchases, or bag their own groceries? There is no discount or incentive for doing so. And the corporate coffers overflow at the consumer’s expense. Think about this the next time you go to the grocery store and want to get out in a hurry.

Do you really want to eliminate the jobs of high school students saving for college, or pay extra for an item to make up for the cost of implementing the scanning equipment? Or for that matter, do you really want to bag your own groceries? The answers are most likely, no?

So, maybe, if we stop using self-checkouts and other such systems, businesses just might be forced to replace automation with humans.

Now isn’t that ironic?

*From a study conducted by Christopher Andrews, author of The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets, and the Do-It-Yourself Economy, and an assistant professor of sociology at Drew University,